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Journal: Pharmacological reviews


Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) is a zinc-dependent peptidase responsible for converting angiotensin I into the vasoconstrictor angiotensin II. However, ACE is a relatively nonspecific peptidase that is capable of cleaving a wide range of substrates. Because of this, ACE and its peptide substrates and products affect many physiologic processes, including blood pressure control, hematopoiesis, reproduction, renal development, renal function, and the immune response. The defining feature of ACE is that it is composed of two homologous and independently catalytic domains, the result of an ancient gene duplication, and ACE-like genes are widely distributed in nature. The two ACE catalytic domains contribute to the wide substrate diversity of ACE and, by extension, the physiologic impact of the enzyme. Several studies suggest that the two catalytic domains have different biologic functions. Recently, the X-ray crystal structure of ACE has elucidated some of the structural differences between the two ACE domains. This is important now that ACE domain-specific inhibitors have been synthesized and characterized. Once widely available, these reagents will undoubtedly be powerful tools for probing the physiologic actions of each ACE domain. In turn, this knowledge should allow clinicians to envision new therapies for diseases not currently treated with ACE inhibitors.

Concepts: Blood pressure, Physiology, Angiotensin, Angiotensin-converting enzyme, Enzyme, Renin-angiotensin system, Evolution, DNA


Nuclear receptors are ligand-activated transcription factors and include the receptors for steroid hormones, lipophilic vitamins, sterols, and bile acids. These receptors serve as targets for development of myriad drugs that target a range of disorders. Classically defined ligands that bind to the ligand-binding domain of nuclear receptors, whether they are endogenous or synthetic, either activate receptor activity (agonists) or block activation (antagonists) and due to the ability to alter activity of the receptors are often termed receptor “modulators.” The complex pharmacology of nuclear receptors has provided a class of ligands distinct from these simple modulators where ligands display agonist/partial agonist/antagonist function in a tissue or gene selective manner. This class of ligands is defined as selective modulators. Here, we review the development and pharmacology of a range of selective nuclear receptor modulators.

Concepts: Pharmacology, Transcription factor, Protein, Cholesterol, Nuclear receptor, Receptor, Steroid, Signal transduction


Psychostimulants such as cocaine have been used as performance enhancers throughout recorded history. Although psychostimulants are commonly prescribed to improve attention and cognition, a great deal of literature has described their ability to induce cognitive deficits, as well as addiction. How can a single drug class be known to produce both cognitive enhancement and impairment? Properties of the particular stimulant drug itself and individual differences between users have both been suggested to dictate the outcome of stimulant use. A more parsimonious alternative, which we endorse, is that dose is the critical determining factor in cognitive effects of stimulant drugs. Herein, we review several popular stimulants (cocaine, amphetamine, methylphenidate, modafinil, and caffeine), outlining their history of use, mechanism of action, and use and abuse today. One common graphic depiction of the cognitive effects of psychostimulants is an inverted U-shaped dose-effect curve. Moderate arousal is beneficial to cognition, whereas too much activation leads to cognitive impairment. In parallel to this schematic, we propose a continuum of psychostimulant activation that covers the transition from one drug effect to another as stimulant intake is increased. Low doses of stimulants effect increased arousal, attention, and cognitive enhancement; moderate doses can lead to feelings of euphoria and power, as well as addiction and cognitive impairment; and very high doses lead to psychosis and circulatory collapse. This continuum helps account for the seemingly disparate effects of stimulant drugs, with the same drug being associated with cognitive enhancement and impairment.

Concepts: Coca, Narcolepsy, Nicotine, Stimulants, Recreational drug use, Methamphetamine, Stimulant, Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder


Psychedelics (serotonergic hallucinogens) are powerful psychoactive substances that alter perception and mood and affect numerous cognitive processes. They are generally considered physiologically safe and do not lead to dependence or addiction. Their origin predates written history, and they were employed by early cultures in many sociocultural and ritual contexts. After the virtually contemporaneous discovery of (5R,8R)-(+)-lysergic acid-N,N-diethylamide (LSD)-25 and the identification of serotonin in the brain, early research focused intensively on the possibility that LSD and other psychedelics had a serotonergic basis for their action. Today there is a consensus that psychedelics are agonists or partial agonists at brain serotonin 5-hydroxytryptamine 2A receptors, with particular importance on those expressed on apical dendrites of neocortical pyramidal cells in layer V. Several useful rodent models have been developed over the years to help unravel the neurochemical correlates of serotonin 5-hydroxytryptamine 2A receptor activation in the brain, and a variety of imaging techniques have been employed to identify key brain areas that are directly affected by psychedelics. Recent and exciting developments in the field have occurred in clinical research, where several double-blind placebo-controlled phase 2 studies of psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy in patients with cancer-related psychosocial distress have demonstrated unprecedented positive relief of anxiety and depression. Two small pilot studies of psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy also have shown positive benefit in treating both alcohol and nicotine addiction. Recently, blood oxygen level-dependent functional magnetic resonance imaging and magnetoencephalography have been employed for in vivo brain imaging in humans after administration of a psychedelic, and results indicate that intravenously administered psilocybin and LSD produce decreases in oscillatory power in areas of the brain’s default mode network.

Concepts: Cerebral cortex, Psychology, Neuron, Psychoactive drug, Psychedelic drug, Magnetic resonance imaging, Brain, Serotonin


Urotensin II (UII) is a cyclic neuropeptide that was first isolated from the urophysis of teleost fish on the basis of its ability to contract the hindgut. Subsequently, UII was characterized in tetrapods including humans. Phylogenetic studies and synteny analysis indicate that UII and its paralogous peptide urotensin II-related peptide (URP) belong to the somatostatin/cortistatin superfamily. In mammals, the UII and URP genes are primarily expressed in cholinergic neurons of the brainstem and spinal cord. UII and URP mRNAs are also present in various organs notably in the cardiovascular, renal, and endocrine systems. UII and URP activate a common G protein-coupled receptor, called UT, that exhibits relatively high sequence identity with somatostatin, opioid, and galanin receptors. The UT gene is widely expressed in the central nervous system (CNS) and in peripheral tissues including the retina, heart, vascular bed, lung, kidney, adrenal medulla, and skeletal muscle. Structure-activity relationship studies and NMR conformational analysis have led to the rational design of a number of peptidic and nonpeptidic UT agonists and antagonists. Consistent with the wide distribution of UT, UII has now been shown to exert a large array of biologic activities, in particular in the CNS, the cardiovascular system, and the kidney. Here, we review the current knowledge concerning the pleiotropic actions of UII and discusses the possible use of antagonists for future therapeutic applications.

Concepts: Brain, Fish, Organ, Kidney, Endocrine system, Central nervous system, Nervous system, Heart


Comorbid depression and chronic pain are highly prevalent in individuals suffering from physical illness. Here, we critically examine the possibility that inflammation is the common mediator of this comorbidity, and we explore the implications of this hypothesis. Inflammation signals the brain to induce sickness responses that include increased pain and negative affect. This is a typical and adaptive response to acute inflammation. However, chronic inflammation induces a transition from these typical sickness behaviors into depression and chronic pain. Several mechanisms can account for the high comorbidity of pain and depression that stem from the precipitating inflammation in physically ill patients. These mechanisms include direct effects of cytokines on the neuronal environment or indirect effects via downregulation of G protein-coupled receptor kinase 2, activation of the tryptophan-degrading enzyme indoleamine 2,3-dioxygenase that generates neurotropic kynurenine metabolites, increased brain extracellular glutamate, and the switch of GABAergic neurotransmission from inhibition to excitation. Despite the existence of many neuroimmune candidate mechanisms for the co-occurrence of depression and chronic pain, little work has been devoted so far to critically assess their mediating role in these comorbid symptoms. Understanding neuroimmune mechanisms that underlie depression and pain comorbidity may yield effective pharmaceutical targets that can treat both conditions simultaneously beyond traditional antidepressants and analgesics.

Concepts: Mediation, Pain, Comorbidity, Inflammation, Nervous system, Medicine, Signal transduction, Illness


In 2005, the International Union of Basic and Clinical Pharmacology Committee on Receptor Nomenclature and Drug Classification (NC-IUPHAR) published a catalog of all of the human gene sequences known or predicted to encode G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs), excluding sensory receptors. This review updates the list of orphan GPCRs and describes the criteria used by NC-IUPHAR to recommend the pairing of an orphan receptor with its cognate ligand(s). The following recommendations are made for new receptor names based on 11 pairings for class A GPCRs: hydroxycarboxylic acid receptors [HCA1 (GPR81) with lactate, HCA2 (GPR109A) with 3-hydroxybutyric acid, HCA3 (GPR109B) with 3-hydroxyoctanoic acid]; lysophosphatidic acid receptors [LPA4 (GPR23), LPA5 (GPR92), LPA6 (P2Y5)]; free fatty acid receptors [FFA4 (GPR120) with omega-3 fatty acids]; chemerin receptor (CMKLR1; ChemR23) with chemerin; CXCR7 (CMKOR1) with chemokines CXCL12 (SDF-1) and CXCL11 (ITAC); succinate receptor (SUCNR1) with succinate; and oxoglutarate receptor [OXGR1 with 2-oxoglutarate]. Pairings are highlighted for an additional 30 receptors in class A where further input is needed from the scientific community to validate these findings. Fifty-seven human class A receptors (excluding pseudogenes) are still considered orphans; information has been provided where there is a significant phenotype in genetically modified animals. In class B, six pairings have been reported by a single publication, with 28 (excluding pseudogenes) still classified as orphans. Seven orphan receptors remain in class C, with one pairing described by a single paper. The objective is to stimulate research into confirming pairings of orphan receptors where there is currently limited information and to identify cognate ligands for the remaining GPCRs. Further information can be found on the IUPHAR Database website (

Concepts: Lipid, Metabotropic glutamate receptor, Triglyceride, Orphan receptor, Omega-3 fatty acid, Signal transduction, G protein-coupled receptor, Fatty acid


The endothelins comprise three structurally similar 21-amino acid peptides. Endothelin-1 and -2 activate two G-protein coupled receptors, ETA and ETB, with equal affinity, whereas endothelin-3 has a lower affinity for the ETA subtype. Genes encoding the peptides are present only among vertebrates. The ligand-receptor signaling pathway is a vertebrate innovation and may reflect the evolution of endothelin-1 as the most potent vasoconstrictor in the human cardiovascular system with remarkably long lasting action. Highly selective peptide ETA and ETB antagonists and ETB agonists together with radiolabeled analogs have accurately delineated endothelin pharmacology in humans and animal models, although surprisingly no ETA agonist has been discovered. ET antagonists (bosentan, ambrisentan) have revolutionized the treatment of pulmonary arterial hypertension, with the next generation of antagonists exhibiting improved efficacy (macitentan). Clinical trials continue to explore new applications, particularly in renal failure and for reducing proteinuria in diabetic nephropathy. Translational studies suggest a potential benefit of ETB agonists in chemotherapy and neuroprotection. However, demonstrating clinical efficacy of combined inhibitors of the endothelin converting enzyme and neutral endopeptidase has proved elusive. Over 28 genetic modifications have been made to the ET system in mice through global or cell-specific knockouts, knock ins, or alterations in gene expression of endothelin ligands or their target receptors. These studies have identified key roles for the endothelin isoforms and new therapeutic targets in development, fluid-electrolyte homeostasis, and cardiovascular and neuronal function. For the future, novel pharmacological strategies are emerging via small molecule epigenetic modulators, biologicals such as ETB monoclonal antibodies and the potential of signaling pathway biased agonists and antagonists.

Concepts: G protein-coupled receptor, Receptor antagonist, Gene, Pharmacology, Protein, Vasoconstriction, Signal transduction, Endothelin


Adolescence is a developmental period when physical and cognitive abilities are optimized, when social skills are consolidated, and when sexuality, adolescent behaviors, and frontal cortical functions mature to adult levels. Adolescents also have unique responses to alcohol compared with adults, being less sensitive to ethanol sedative-motor responses that most likely contribute to binge drinking and blackouts. Population studies find that an early age of drinking onset correlates with increased lifetime risks for the development of alcohol dependence, violence, and injuries. Brain synapses, myelination, and neural circuits mature in adolescence to adult levels in parallel with increased reflection on the consequence of actions and reduced impulsivity and thrill seeking. Alcohol binge drinking could alter human development, but variations in genetics, peer groups, family structure, early life experiences, and the emergence of psychopathology in humans confound studies. As adolescence is common to mammalian species, preclinical models of binge drinking provide insight into the direct impact of alcohol on adolescent development. This review relates human findings to basic science studies, particularly the preclinical studies of the Neurobiology of Adolescent Drinking in Adulthood (NADIA) Consortium. These studies focus on persistent adult changes in neurobiology and behavior following adolescent intermittent ethanol (AIE), a model of underage drinking. NADIA studies and others find that AIE results in the following: increases in adult alcohol drinking, disinhibition, and social anxiety; altered adult synapses, cognition, and sleep; reduced adult neurogenesis, cholinergic, and serotonergic neurons; and increased neuroimmune gene expression and epigenetic modifiers of gene expression. Many of these effects are specific to adolescents and not found in parallel adult studies. AIE can cause a persistence of adolescent-like synaptic physiology, behavior, and sensitivity to alcohol into adulthood. Together, these findings support the hypothesis that adolescent binge drinking leads to long-lasting changes in the adult brain that increase risks of adult psychopathology, particularly for alcohol dependence.

Concepts: Alcohol abuse, Developmental psychology, Neuron, Alcoholism, Binge drinking, Drinking culture, Adolescence, Psychology


Central nervous system (CNS) barriers predominantly mediate the immune-privileged status of the brain, and are also important regulators of neuroimmune communication. It is increasingly appreciated that communication between the brain and immune system contributes to physiologic processes, adaptive responses, and disease states. In this review, we discuss the highly specialized features of brain barriers that regulate neuroimmune communication in health and disease. Insection I, we discuss the concept of immune privilege, provide working definitions of brain barriers, and outline the historical work that contributed to the understanding of CNS barrier functions. Insection II, we discuss the unique anatomic, cellular, and molecular characteristics of the vascular blood-brain barrier (BBB), blood-cerebrospinal fluid barrier, and tanycytic barriers that confer their functions as neuroimmune interfaces. Insection III, we consider BBB-mediated neuroimmune functions and interactions categorized as five neuroimmune axes: disruption, responses to immune stimuli, uptake and transport of immunoactive substances, immune cell trafficking, and secretions of immunoactive substances. Insection IV, we discuss neuroimmune functions of CNS barriers in physiologic and disease states, as well as pharmacological interventions for CNS diseases. Throughout this review, we highlight many recent advances that have contributed to the modern understanding of CNS barriers and their interface functions.

Concepts: Peripheral nervous system, Cerebrospinal fluid, Physiology, Neurology, Nervous system, Medicine, Central nervous system, Brain