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Title: Neurochemical and neuropharmacological studies on a range of novel psychoactive substances
Author: Loi, Barbara
ISNI:       0000 0004 7656 2296
Awarding Body: University of Hertfordshire
Current Institution: University of Hertfordshire
Date of Award: 2018
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Introduction: Over recent decades, there has been an increase in the availability and use of Novel Psychoactive Substances (NPS) all over the world. They include several classes of chemicals that mimic the effects of illicit drugs and have been purposefully introduced into the market to circumvent or undermine the purpose of legal regulation. Currently, there is information lacking on the pharmacology of these substances; however, the increasing number of cases and outbreaks of intoxications/deaths is becoming a cause for deepening concern. Multi-disciplinary research in the fields of biology, chemistry, clinical medicine and web analysis is needed to develop responses against this tidal wave. Aim: The overall aim of this project is to gain insights into pharmacological, neurochemical and molecular properties of selected NPS to provide a reliable background needed for detection, assessment, and management of NPS-related harms. A range of approaches and methodologies was employed and a spectrum of different fields of knowledge has been engaged to gain some understanding into the complex multi-faceted phenomenon of NPS. Methods: Different substances have been selected as targets for the present project according to the clinical pattern of toxicity raised by their worldwide use and the lack of scientific knowledge available about them. The methods employed were: in vitro quantitative autoradiography (to evaluate the binding properties of the novel SCs BB-22, 5F-PB-22, 5F-AKB-48 and STS-135 at the cannabinoid receptor type 1 and N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor; and the binding properties of the synthetic stimulants 5-IT and 2-DPMP at the dopamine transporter in rat brain slices); in vitro Fast Scan Cyclic Voltammetry (to assess the effects of BB-22 on evoked dopamine efflux and dopamine re-uptake half-life in nucleus accumbens brain slices); in vivo microdialysis (to monitor dopamine release in terminal areas of the reward system after acute administration of the synthetic cannabinoids BB-22, 5F-PB-22, 5F-AKB-48 and STS-135; the dieting aid compound 2,4-DNP; the synthetic stimulants 2-DPMP and D2PM in freely moving animals); in silico molecular docking (to investigate the intermolecular interactions of the SCs BB-22, 5F-PB-22, 5F-AKB-48 and STS-135, and other referent compounds, with a homology model of the rodent cannabinoid receptor type 1 (CB1R) and the crystal structure of the human CB1R); and a web-based analysis approach (to analyse the information provided by a range of fora communities on 4,4'-DMAR use, additionally critical reviewing the available evidence-based literature on this topic). Results: Our in vitro quantitative autoradiography studies, confirmed that the index compounds BB-22, 5F-PB-22, 5F-AKB-48 and STS-135, behave as highly potent CB1R ligands able to compete with the radioligand [3H]CP-55,940 in cortical and striatal brain slices. On the other hand, all synthetic cannabinoids tested were unable to compete with the radioligand [3H]MK-801 in the same cerebral areas, rejecting the hypothesis of their potential binding to the N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor (NMDAR) at all concentrations investigated. Consistent with previous in vitro studies, 5-IT and 2-DPMP behaved as highly potent dopamine transporter (DAT) ligands able to compete with the radioligand [125 I]RTI-121 in a concentration-dependent way in the Caudate Putamen (CPu) and Nucleus Accumbens (NAc) brain slices. Notably, 2-DPMP was able to displace the radioligand in both cerebral regions, starting from lower concentrations compared to 5-IT. In vitro Fast Scan Cyclic Voltammetry findings demonstrated that local application of the synthetic cannabinoid BB-22 in brain slices, was unable to change evoked dopamine efflux and dopamine reuptake time-constant in the NAc shell at any doses tested. The results obtained would suggest the relative contributions of complex neuronal circuits, either within or outside the NAc, whose modulation would interfere with the interactions between BB-22 and dopaminergic neurons and represent critical pathways accounting for some of the rewarding properties of BB-22 exposure. In vivo microdialysis outcomes suggested that all SCs tested could increase dopamine release in the NAc shell at specific doses, while no changes in dopamine output were observed in other areas of the reward system, namely NAc core and medial prefrontal cortex (mPFCx) after BB-22 administration. These outcomes provided a circumstantial pre-clinical evidence for a greater putative abuse liability of SCs compared to the natural compound found in cannabis (Δ9‐THC). Furthermore, the acute treatment with 2,4-DNP did not cause any change in dopamine release in the NAc shell and CPu rejecting the hypothesis of psychoactivity of this substance at the dose tested. On the other hand, the synthetic stimulant 2-DPMP elicited a comparable increase of dopamine (DA) release in the NAc shell and CPu at the higher doses tested, while D2PM caused a selective increase of DA release in the NAc shell, providing a circumstantial preclinical evidence for a putative abuse liability of this compound at the highest dose assessed. The in silico molecular docking studies demonstrated that the SCs BB-22, 5F-PB-22, 5F-AKB-48 and STS-135 interact with CB1 receptor residues that, according to previous mutation and computational studies, are considered crucial for synthetic cannabinoid binding recognition. Additionally, they share some interacting residues with other aminoalkylindole derivatives (e.g. WIN-55,212-2). The web-based analysis focused on 4,4'-DMAR, suggested that fora members co-operate in exchanging an extensive body of knowledge about this drug, and the recurring topics of discussion include: routes of administration and dosages; desired and undesired effects; comparison and association with other drugs and medications; overall impression; provision of harm reduction advice. This approach has been useful to better understand some of the clinical and psychopharmacological issues pertaining to 4,4'-DMAR. Conclusions: Overall, these studies provided new pharmacological, neurochemical and molecular knowledge on a range of Novel Psychoactive Substances essential for identifying potential therapeutical approaches against their use/abuse. The novelty of this project lies in the adoption of a multi-disciplinary approach involving a range of methodologies from different areas of expertise (neurobiology, pharmacology, chemistry, netnography) all integrated to clarify some aspects of the index NPS, which were not yet available in the current literature. Additional studies are needed to better explain short and long-term effects of the index NPS, their abuse potential, and their interactions with other drugs of abuse.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Novel Psychoactive Substances ; Synthetic cannabinoids ; Synthetic stimulants ; In vitro quantitative autoradiography ; In vitro fast scan cyclic voltammetry ; Microdialysis ; Molecular modelling ; Docking ; Netnography