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Journal: Neuropharmacology


Progressive multiple sclerosis (MS) is a severely disabling neurological condition, and an effective treatment is urgently needed. Recently, high-dose biotin has emerged as a promising therapy for affected individuals. Initial clinical data have shown that daily doses of biotin of up to 300 mg can improve objective measures of MS-related disability. In this article, we review the biology of biotin and explore the properties of this ubiquitous coenzyme that may explain the encouraging responses seen in patients with progressive MS. The gradual worsening of neurological disability in patients with progressive MS is caused by progressive axonal loss or damage. The triggers for axonal loss in MS likely include both inflammatory demyelination of the myelin sheath and primary neurodegeneration caused by a state of virtual hypoxia within the neuron. Accordingly, targeting both these pathological processes could be effective in the treatment of progressive MS. Biotin is an essential co-factor for five carboxylases involved in fatty acid synthesis and energy production. We hypothesize that high-dose biotin is exerting a therapeutic effect in patients with progressive MS through two different and complementary mechanisms: by promoting axonal remyelination by enhancing myelin production and by reducing axonal hypoxia through enhanced energy production.

Concepts: Nervous system, Neuron, Action potential, Multiple sclerosis, Neurology, Axon, Myelin, Oligodendrocyte


Dendritic spines represent the major postsynaptic input of excitatory synapses. Loss of spines and changes in their morphology correlate with cognitive impairment in Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and are thought to occur early during pathology. Therapeutic intervention at a preclinical stage of AD to modify spine changes might thus be warranted. To follow the development and to potentially interfere with spine changes over time, we established a long term ex vivo model from organotypic cultures of the hippocampus from APP transgenic and control mice. The cultures exhibit spine loss in principal hippocampal neurons, which closely resembles the changes occurring in vivo, and spine morphology progressively changes from mushroom-shaped to stubby. We demonstrate that spine changes are completely reversed within few days after blocking amyloid-β (Aβ) production with the gamma-secretase inhibitor DAPT. We show that the microtubule disrupting drug nocodazole leads to spine loss similar to Aβ expressing cultures and suppresses DAPT-mediated spine recovery in slices from APP transgenic mice. Finally, we report that epothilone D (EpoD) at a subnanomolar concentration, which slightly stabilizes microtubules in model neurons, completely reverses Aβ-induced spine loss and increases thin spine density. Taken together the data indicate that Aβ causes spine changes by microtubule destabilization and that spine recovery requires microtubule polymerization. Moreover, our results suggest that a low, subtoxic concentration of EpoD is sufficient to reduce spine loss during the preclinical stage of AD.

Concepts: Alzheimer's disease, Neuron, Brain, Action potential, Hippocampus, Long-term potentiation, Postsynaptic potential, Dendritic spine


Individuals with Type 1 diabetes (T1D) are often exposed to recurrent episodes of hypoglycaemia. This reduces hormonal and behavioural responses that normally counteract low glucose in order to maintain glucose homeostasis, with altered responsiveness of glucose sensing hypothalamic neurons implicated. Although the molecular mechanisms are unknown, pharmacological studies implicate hypothalamic ATP-sensitive potassium channel (KATP) activity, with KATP openers (KCOs) amplifying, through cell hyperpolarization, the response to hypoglycaemia. Although initial findings, using acute hypothalamic KCO delivery, in rats were promising, chronic exposure to the KCO NN414 worsened the responses to subsequent hypoglycaemic challenge. To investigate this further we used GT1-7 cells to explore how NN414 affected glucose-sensing behaviour, the metabolic response of cells to hypoglycaemia and KATP activity. GT1-7 cells exposed to 3 or 24 h NN414 exhibited an attenuated hyperpolarization to subsequent hypoglycaemic challenge or NN414, which correlated with diminished KATP activity. The reduced sensitivity to hypoglycaemia was apparent 24 h after NN414 removal, even though intrinsic KATP activity recovered. The NN414-modified glucose responsiveness was not associated with adaptations in glucose uptake, metabolism or oxidation. KATP inactivation by NN414 was prevented by the concurrent presence of tolbutamide, which maintains KATP closure. Single channel recordings indicate that NN414 alters KATP intrinsic gating inducing a stable closed or inactivated state. These data indicate that exposure of hypothalamic glucose sensing cells to chronic NN414 drives a sustained conformational change to KATP, probably by binding to SUR1, that results in loss of channel sensitivity to intrinsic metabolic factors such as MgADP and small molecule agonists.

Concepts: Protein, Metabolism, Insulin, Diabetes mellitus, Blood sugar, Action potential, Hypoglycemia, Behavior


Recent evidence indicates that psilocybin with psychological support may be effective for treating depression. Some studies have found that patients with depression show heightened amygdala responses to fearful faces and there is reliable evidence that treatment with SSRIs attenuates amygdala responses (Ma, 2015). We hypothesised that amygdala responses to emotional faces would be altered post-treatment with psilocybin. In this open-label study, 20 individuals diagnosed with moderate to severe, treatment-resistant depression, underwent two separate dosing sessions with psilocybin. Psychological support was provided before, during and after these sessions and 19 completed fMRI scans one week prior to the first session and one day after the second and last. Neutral, fearful and happy faces were presented in the scanner and analyses focused on the amygdala. Group results revealed rapid and enduring improvements in depressive symptoms post psilocybin. Increased responses to fearful and happy faces were observed in the right amygdala post-treatment, and right amygdala increases to fearful versus neutral faces were predictive of clinical improvements at 1-week. Psilocybin with psychological support was associated with increased amygdala responses to emotional stimuli, an opposite effect to previous findings with SSRIs. This suggests fundamental differences in these treatments' therapeutic actions, with SSRIs mitigating negative emotions and psilocybin allowing patients to confront and work through them. Based on the present results, we propose that psilocybin with psychological support is a treatment approach that potentially revives emotional responsiveness in depression, enabling patients to reconnect with their emotions.

Concepts: Psychology, Neuroscience, Serotonin, Limbic system, Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor, Major depressive disorder, Emotion, Emotions and culture


This review assesses the abuse potential of medically-administered psilocybin, following the structure of the 8 factors of the US Controlled Substances Act (CSA). Research suggests the potential safety and efficacy of psilocybin in treating cancer-related psychiatric distress and substance use disorders, setting the occasion for this review. A more extensive assessment of abuse potential according to an 8 factor analysis would eventually be required to guide appropriate schedule placement. Psilocybin, like other 5-HT2A agonist classic psychedelics, has limited reinforcing effects, supporting marginal, transient non-human self-administration. Nonetheless, mushrooms with variable psilocybin content are used illicitly, with a few lifetime use occasions being normative among users. Potential harms include dangerous behavior in unprepared, unsupervised users, and exacerbation of mental illness in those with or predisposed to psychotic disorders. However, scope of use and associated harms are low compared to prototypical abused drugs, and the medical model addresses these concerns, with dose control, patient screening, preparation and follow-up, and session supervision in a medical facility.


Modafinil, a putative cognitive enhancing drug, has previously been shown to improve performance of healthy volunteers as well as patients with attention deficit disorder and schizophrenia, mainly in tests of executive functions. The aim of this study was to investigate the effects of modafinil on non-verbal cognitive functions in healthy volunteers, with a particular focus on variations of cognitive load, measures of motivational factors and the effects on creative problem-solving.

Concepts: Psychology, Attention, Cognition, Cognitive science, Educational psychology, Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, Major depressive disorder, Dopamine


Alcohol excitation of the ventral tegmental area (VTA) is important in neurobiological processes related to the development of alcoholism. The ionotropic receptors on VTA neurons that mediate ethanol-induced excitation have not been identified. Quinidine blocks ethanol excitation of VTA neurons, and blockade of two-pore potassium channels is among the actions of quinidine. Therefore two-pore potassium channels in the VTA may be potential targets for the action of ethanol. Here, we explored whether ethanol activation of VTA neurons is mediated by the two-pore potassium channel KCNK13. Extracellular recordings of the response of VTA neurons to ethanol were performed in combination with knockdown of Kcnk13 using a short hairpin RNA (shRNA) in C57BL/6 J mice. Real-time PCR and immunohistochemistry were used to examine expression of this channel in the VTA. Finally, the role of KCNK13 in binge-like drinking was examined in the drinking in the dark test after knockdown of the channel. Kcnk13 expression in the VTA was increased by acute ethanol exposure. Ethanol-induced excitation of VTA neurons was selectively reduced by shRNA targeting Kcnk13. Importantly, knockdown of Kcnk13 in the VTA resulted in increased alcohol drinking. These results are consistent with the idea that ethanol stimulates VTA neurons at least in part by inhibiting KCNK13, a specific two-pore potassium channel, and that KCNK13 can control both VTA neuronal activity and binge drinking. KCNK13 is a novel alcohol-sensitive molecular target and may be amenable to the development of pharmacotherapies for alcoholism treatment.


Recreational use of the cathinone derivative 3,4-methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV; “bath salts”) has increased worldwide in past years, accompanied by accounts of health and legal problems in the popular media and efforts to criminalize possession in numerous jurisdictions. Minimal information exists on the effects of MDPV in laboratory models. This study determined the effects of MDPV, alongside those of the better studied stimulant d-methamphetamine (METH), using rodent models of intravenous self-administration (IVSA), thermoregulation and locomotor activity. Male Wistar rats were trained to self-administer MDPV or METH (0.05 mg/kg/infusion, i.v.) or were prepared with radiotelemetry implants for the assessment of body temperature and activity responses to MDPV or METH (0-5.6 mg/kg s.c.). METH and MDPV were consistently self-administered within 10 training sessions (mg/kg/hour; METH Mean=0.4 and Max = 1.15; MDPV Mean=0.9 and Max = 5.8). Dose-substitution studies demonstrated that behavior was sensitive to dose for both drugs, but MDPV (0.01-0.50 mg/kg/inf) showed greater potency and efficacy than METH (0.1-0.25 mg/kg/inf). In addition, both MDPV and METH increased locomotor activity at lower doses (0.5-1.0 mg/kg, s.c.) and transiently decreased activity at the highest dose (5.6 mg/kg, s.c.). Body temperature increased monotonically with increasing doses of METH but MDPV had a negligible effect on temperature. Stereotypy was associated with relatively high self-administered cumulative doses of MDPV (∼1.5 mg/kg/hr) as well as with non-contingent MDPV administration wherein the intensity and duration of stereotypy increased as MDPV dose increased. Thus, MDPV poses a substantial threat for compulsive use that is potentially greater than that for METH.

Concepts: Effectiveness, Drug, Morphine, Stimulant, Heat transfer, Methamphetamine, Recreational drug use, Prohibition


Research confirms that maternal ethanol (EtOH) exposure can induce physical and mental disorders in offspring, yet the effect of paternal ethanol exposure on offspring is unclear. Methylation alterations in imprinted genes may be related to the well-documented teratogenic effects of ethanol. Here, we report that ethanol (0, 1.1, 3.3 g/kg) was administered intragastrically to male mice and a behavioral study was performed on their F1 generation. Data show that F1 mice with fathers exposed to the highest dose of ethanol had delayed cognitive performance and increased anxiety and depression. A specific circling behavior was observed in the offspring of the paternally ethanol-exposed group. The degree of methylation and mRNA expression of H19, Peg3, Ndn and Snrpn were assessed in paternal sperm and in the cerebral cortices of each offspring. It did affect methylation in paternal sperm (H19 and Peg3) and in the offspring’s cerebral cortices (CpG7 and CpG 11 in Peg3 and Snrpn), but the level of mRNA expression has not changed. In the circling mice, the highest ethanol exposure increase in methylation (CpG 1, 2, 7 and 11) and decreases in mRNA of Peg3.Thus, chronic paternal ethanol exposure can affect the methylation of imprinted genes in sire sperm that may be passed on to offspring, giving rise to mental deficits.

Concepts: DNA, Psychology, Gene, Cell nucleus, Gene expression, Epigenetics, DNA methylation, Molecular genetics


Oral administration of the combination of L-threonate (threonate) and magnesium (Mg(2+)) in the form of L-Threonic acid Magnesium salt (L-TAMS) can enhance learning and memory in young rats and prevent memory decline in aging rats and in Alzheimer’s disease model mice. Recent results from a human clinical trial demonstrate the efficacy of L-TAMS in restoring global cognitive abilities of older adults. Previously, we reported that neuronal intracellular Mg(2+) serves as a critical signaling molecule for controlling synapse density. The elevation of brain Mg(2+) by oral administration of L-TAMS in intact animals plays a significant role in mediating the therapeutic effects of L-TAMS. The current study sought to elucidate the unique role of threonate. We aimed to understand if threonate acts directly to elevate intraneuronal Mg(2+), and why Mg(2+) given without threonate is ineffective for enhancing learning and memory ability. We discovered that threonate is naturally present in cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) and oral treatment with L-TAMS elevated CSF threonate. In cultured hippocampal neurons, threonate treatment directly induced an increase in intracellular Mg(2+) concentration. Functionally, elevating threonate upregulated expression of NR2B-containing NMDAR, boosted mitochondrial membrane potential (ΔΨm), and increased functional synapse density in neuronal cultures. These effects are unique to threonate, as other common Mg(2+) anions failed to have the same results. Mechanistically, threonate’s effects were specifically mediated through glucose transporters (GLUTs). We also evaluated the effects of threonate in human neural stem cell-derived neurons, and found it was equally effective at upregulating synapse density. The current study provides an explanation for why threonate is an essential component of L-TAMS and supports the use of L-TAMS to promote cognitive abilities in human.

Concepts: Alzheimer's disease, Nervous system, Psychology, Neuron, Brain, Cognition, Memory, Hippocampus