Search tips
Search criteria 


Logo of nihpaAbout Author manuscriptsSubmit a manuscriptHHS Public Access; Author Manuscript; Accepted for publication in peer reviewed journal;
J Med Chem. Author manuscript; available in PMC 2010 July 23.
Published in final edited form as:
PMCID: PMC2765192

Synthesis and Evaluation of a Series of Heterobiaryl Amides that are Centrally Penetrant Metabotropic Glutamate Receptor 4 (mGluR4) Positive Allosteric Modulators (PAMs)


We report the synthesis and evaluation of a series of heterobiaryl amides as positive allosteric modulators of mGluR4. Compounds 9b and 9c showed submicromolar potency at both human and rat mGluR4. In addition, both 9b and 9c were shown to be centrally penetrant in rats using nontoxic vehicles, a major advance for the mGluR4 field.

The metabotropic glutamate receptors (mGluRsa) are members of the GPCR family C, characterized by a large extracellular amino-terminal binding domain (agonist) along with a 7-transmembrane spanning (7TM) domain which is the binding site for most known mGluR allosteric modulators.1-3 The eight cloned mGluRs have been assigned to three groups (Groups I,II,III) based on their structural similarity, ligand specificity, and preferred coupling mechanisms.4 The Group I subfamily is composed of mGluR1 and mGluR5; Group II receptors include mGluR2 and mGluR3; and the Group III receptors are represented by mGluR4, mGluR6, mGluR7 and mGluR8. Among the mGluRs, the Group III receptors have thus far received less attention in terms of their therapeutic potential due to the paucity of selective ligands. However, recently there have been numerous reports detailing the potential benefits of mGluR4 activation in several disease models, most notably rodent models of Parkinson's disease.5,6 It has been shown that activation of mGluR4 decreases GABAergic transmission at the inhibitory striato-pallidal synapse with the basal ganglia, a mechanism that is expected to provide palliative benefit for the treatment of Parkinson's disease.7 In addition, there have been recent reports detailing the neuroprotective effects of an mGluR4 PAM in cultured neurons and in vivo.8,9

The most well characterized mGluR4 PAM for many years has been the compound PHCCC, 1, a partially selective mGluR4 potentiator.8,10,11 More recently, our laboratory and others have expanded the list of novel probes for positive allosteric modulation of mGluR4 (Figure 1).12-16 Unfortunately, all of the disclosed mGluR4 PAMs are deficient in their penetration into the CNS and their effects have only been demonstrated via intracerebroventricular (icv) injection or with the use of toxic vehicles such as a 50% DMSO solution. Herein, we report a class of centrally penetrant mGluR4 PAMs which can be administered in a nontoxic vehicle.

Figure 1
Chemical structure of (-)-PHCCC, 1, the mGluR4 ago-potentiator VU0155041, 2, and mGluR4 PAMs VU0001171, 3, VU0080241, 4, and VU0092145, 5.

A high-throughput screening (HTS) campaign was initiated at Vanderbilt to identify novel mGluR4 PAMs.12-14 In addition to the ligands shown in Figure 1, there were a number of small aryl amide compounds identified as having mGluR4 PAM activity (Figure 2). These were attractive hits due to their favorable calculated properties (MW <300, cLogP <3.50, total Polar Surface Area (tPSA) <40, Ligand Efficiency (LE)17 >0.30). From these lead compounds we initiated an optimization program in order to further profile this chemical series as novel mGluR4 PAMs.

Figure 2
Initial HTS hits

Initial effort was directed at the left-side heteroaryl amide portion for which the synthesis is outlined in Scheme 1. A small library utilizing the furyl amide revealed that the 3,4-dichloroaniline displayed good potency and efficacy at the hmGluR4 receptor. Next, a more detailed SAR evaluation of this structural class was undertaken.

Scheme 1
Synthesis of amides 8 and 9a

Keeping the right-hand aniline constant as the 3,4-dichlorophenyl, we first evaluated different aryl, cycloalkyl, and heteroaryl amide replacements (Table 1). One issue that has been observed for many allosteric ligands is the noted intractable SAR14,19,20; this property was also observed for the amide modifications. While the furyl amide, 8a, was active in the micromolar range with good efficacy (>5 μM, 135% GluMax), and bromo substitution was tolerated (8b, 4.1 μM, 62% GluMax), further modifications led to loss of activity (see 8c-d). An additional survey of 5-membered heterocycles was undertaken but all compounds were inactive as mGluR4 PAMs (8e-g). Substituting a cyclohexyl, 8h, or phenyl, 8i, amide for the furyl also led to inactive compounds. However, upon introduction of the 2-pyridyl group, good potency and GluMax values were restored (8j, 1.4 μM; 80% GluMax). The 2-pyrazine compound, 8k, lost activity, while the 4-pyrimidine, 8l, retained potency, again highlighting this feature of intractable SAR around allosteric modulators. Based on these results, the 2-pyridyl amide was chosen to further analyze for SAR.21

Table 1
Amide SAR.

Starting from the 3,4-dichloroaniline derivative, 8j, a number of halogenated and/or oxygenated compounds were synthesized and evaluated (Table 2). Compounds 9a-9p were synthesized and tested and a clear improvement on the HTS lead was identified. Compounds 9a-9c were the best compounds evaluated in this series and presently are some of the best compounds for mGluR4 PAM activity that have been disclosed to date. These compounds have excellent potency at hmGluR4 (240 nM - 780 nM) and rmGluR4 (80 nM - 370 nM) receptors and exhibit excellent efficacy (hGluMax%, 182 - 235). The SAR shows that oxygen in the 3-position is favored; however a 3-Cl substituent also imparts activity. As has been seen with other allosteric modulators, the SAR is very narrow with very minor modifications leading to compounds with reduced or no activity. A number of modifications highlight this fact - see compounds 9c (340 nM) vs. 9d (>5 μM), where a simple modification of a difluoromethoxy to a trifluoromethoxy imparts a >10-fold loss of activity. Substituting the phenyl ring of the aniline with either a pyridine (9n,o) or pyrimidine (9p) also led to compounds with much reduced activity (9b (240 nM) vs. 9n (>5 μM)) or inactive compounds (9o,p). A number of compounds were synthesized to examine the 3-methoxy substitution by making longer alkyl chain substitutions or by cyclization (data not shown). However, each of these modifications led to either inactive or weakly active compounds.

Table 2
SAR of the aniline.

A number of the more active compounds were next evaluated for their ability to shift the glutamate response curve to the left. The fold shift for both the human and rat receptors are shown in Table 2. Many of the compounds that were analyzed showed a robust shift of the glutamate response (Figure 3, 9b). The SAR for this series of compounds was also mirrored in the fold shift data. As was observed in the potency data (Table 2), 9a-c were the most potent compounds and they also produced the largest fold shift in both the human and rat cell lines. In addition to these compounds, 9f and 9j also produced robust fold shifts, giving this series several compounds with fold shifts >15. In addition, the selectivity of a few compounds (9a-c) was determined among the various mGluR subtypes. Although these compounds are very active at both the human and rat mGluR4 receptor, they showed little activity against the other mGluRs, with the exceptions being weak PAM activity at mGluR5 and mGluR8. For example, compounds 9b and 9c showed weak PAM activity at both mGluR5 and 8 (Supplementary Material, Table 1); however, there is more than a 20-fold separation in potencies compared to mGluR4.

Figure 3Figure 3
Potency and efficacy of the novel mGluR4 PAM, 9b. (a) Compound 9b was added in progressively higher concentrations to cell co-expressing human mGluR4 and the chimeric G protein Gqi5 (white boxes). After a 2.5 minute incubation period, an EC20 concentration ...

Based on the potency and efficacy of compounds 9a-e, and the very favorable calculated properties, we next looked at metabolic stability and protein binding (PPB) (Table 3). These compounds were not stable in human or rat liver microsomes (HLM, RLM) with three compounds (9a-c) having less than 10% of the parent remaining after the incubation period and two compounds (9d-e) having less than 25% remaining. However, it is worth noting that 9d and 9e are significantly more stable; neither compound possesses the metabolically unstable methoxy group. All of these compounds (except 9d) possess favorable % free fraction in human and rat protein binding experiments. Due to these findings and the potency of these compounds, 9b and 9c were advanced further for in vivo DMPK analysis.

Table 3
In vitro pharmacokinetic evaluation of 9a-9c.

The hydrochloride salts of these compounds (9b,9c) were synthesized and dosed intraperitoneally (10mg/kg) as an aqueous microsuspension containing 10% tween 80 and the amount of compound present in brain and plasma was determined at 0.5, 1 and 8 h after administration (Table 4). Consistent with the poor in vitro microsomal stability, these compounds showed high clearance and low plasma exposure in rats. However, the brain levels for compounds 9b and 9c, were significant when compared to the total amount of compound, indicative of good brain penetration for these amides.

Table 4
Rat pharmacokinetic data for Compounds 9b and 9c.

In summary, we report a series of small molecule mGluR4 positive allosteric modulators. These compounds represent a series of 2-pyridyl amide compounds that possess excellent calculated properties, making them ideal candidates for tool compounds. In addition, a number of compounds have excellent in vitro potency and efficacy at both the human and rat mGluR4 receptor, and many possess the ability to robustly shift the glutamate response to the left (>15). Selected compounds were further profiled for selectivity, in vitro PK and ultimately in vivo PK. Two compounds, 9b and 9c, although possessing less than ideal in vitro PK parameters, show sufficient brain penetration to enable further evaluation in anti-Parkinsonian in vivo rodent models which will be reported in due course.

Supplementary Material



The authors would like to thank the assistance of members of the Vanderbilt HTS facility, Miranda Nolan for the in vitro PK, as well as Matt Mulder, Chris Denicola and Sichen Chang for the purification of compounds utilizing the mass-directed HPLC system. This work was supported by the National Institute of Mental Health, the Michael J. Fox Foundation, the Vanderbilt Department of Pharmacology and the Vanderbilt Institute of Chemical Biology.


aAbbreviations: mGluR: metabotropic glutamate receptor; PAM: positive allosteric modulator; HTS: high-throughput screening; tPSA: total polar surface area; LE: ligand efficiency; HLM: human liver microsomes; RLM: rat liver microsomes; PPB: protein binding.

Supporting Information Available: Experimental procedures, spectroscopic data, and NMR data for select compounds, along with biological procedures. This material is available free of charge via the Internet at


(1) Conn PJ, Pin J-P. Pharmacology and functions of metabotropic glutamate receptors. Ann. Rev. Pharmacol. Toxicol. 1997;37:205–237. [PubMed]
(2) Marino MJ, Conn PJ. Glutamate-based therapeutic approaches: allosteric modulators of metabotropic glutamate receptors. Curr. Opin. Pharm. 2006;6(1):98–102. [PubMed]
(3) Conn PJ, Christopoulos A, Lindsley CW. Allosteric modulators of GPCRs: a novel approach for the treatment of CNS disorders. Nature Rev. Drug. Dis. 2009;8(1):41–54. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
(4) Schoepp DD, Jane DE, Monn JA. Pharmacological agents acting at subtypes of metabotropic glutamate receptors. Neuropharmacology. 1999;38(10):1431–1476. [PubMed]
(5) Hopkins CR, Lindsley CW, Niswender CM. mGluR4 Positive Allosteric Modulation as Potential Treatment of Parkinson's Disease. Future Med. Chem. 2009 In Press. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
(6) Hefti FF. Drug Discovery for Nervous System Diseases. Wiley-Interscience; Hoboken, NJ: 2005. Parkinson's Disease; pp. 183–204.
(7) Valenti O, Marino MJ, Wittmann M, Lis E, DiLella AG, Kinney GG, Conn PJ. Group III metabotropic glutamate receptor-mediated modulation of the striatopallidal synapse. J. Neuroscience. 2003;23(18):7218–7226. [PubMed]
(8) Maj M, Bruno V, Dragic Z, Yamamoto R, Battaglia G, Inderbitzin W, Stoehr N, Stein T, Gasparini F, Vranesic I, Kuhn R, Nicoletti F, Flor PJ. (-)-PHCCC, a positive allosteric modulator of mGluR4: characterization, mechanism of action, and neuroprotection. Neuropharmacology. 2003;45(7):895–906. [PubMed]
(9) Battaglia G, Busceti CL, Molinaro G, Giagioni F, Traficante A, Nicoletti F, Bruno V. Pharmacological activation of mGluR4 metabotropic glutamate receptors reduces nigrostriatal degeneration in mice treated with 1-methyl-4-phenyl-1,2,3,6-tetrahydropyridine. J. Neuroscience. 2006;26(27):7222–7229. [PubMed]
(10) Annoura H, Fukunaga A, Uesugi M. A novel class of antagonists for metabotropic glutamate receptors, 7-(hydroxyimino)cyclopropa[b]chromen-1a-carboxylates. Bioorg. Med. Chem. Lett. 1996;6(7):763–766.
(11) Marino MJ, Williams DL, Jr., O'Brien JA, Valenti O, McDonald TP, Clements MK, Wang R, DiLella AG, Kinney GG, Conn PJ. Allosteric modulation of group III metabotropic glutamate receptor 4: a potential approach to Parkinson's disease treatment. Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci. 2003;100(23):13668–13673. [PubMed]
(12) Niswender CM, Johnson KA, Weaver CD, Jones CK, Xiang Z, Luo Q, Rodriguez AL, Marlo JE, de Paulis T, Thompson AD, Days EL, Nalywajko T, Austin CA, Williams MB, Ayala JE, Williams R, Lindsley CW, Conn PJ. Discovery, characterization, and antiparkinsonian effect of novel positive allosteric modulators of metabotropic glutamate receptor 4. Mol. Pharmacol. 2008;74(5):1345–1358. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
(13) Niswender CM, Lebois EP, Luo Q, Kim K, Muchalski H, Yin H, Conn PJ, Lindsley CW. Positive allosteric modulators of the metabotropic glutamate receptor subtype 4 (mGluR4): Part I. Discovery of pyrazolo[3,4-d]pyrimidines as novel mGluR4 positive allosteric modulators. Bioorg. Med. Chem. Lett. 2008;18(20):5626–5630. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
(14) Williams R, Niswender CM, Luo Q, Le U, Conn PJ, Lindsley CW. Positive allosteric modulators of the metabotropic glutamate receptor subtype 4 (mGluR4). Part II: Challenges in hit-to-lead. Bioorg. Med. Chem. Lett. 2009;19(3):962–966. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
(15) Reynolds IJ. Metabotropic glutamate receptors as therapeutic targets in Parkinson's disease. 6th International Meeting on Metabotropic Glutamate Receptors 2008; 14 September - 19 September; Italy: Taormina, Sicily; 2008.
(16) Ortuno D, Cheng C, Weiss M, Bergeron M, Shanker Y. Society for Neuroscience 2008. Washington, DC, USA: 2008. Identification and characterization of a potent and selective positive allosteric modulator of mGluR4. 15 November - 19 November.
(17) Hopkins AL, Groom CR, Alex A. Ligand efficiency: a useful metric for lead selection. Drug Dis. Today. 2004;9(10):430–431. [PubMed]
(18) Leister W, Strauss K, Wisnoski D, Zhao Z, Lindsley C. Development of a custom high-throughput preparative liquid chromatography/mass spectrometer platform for the preparative purification and analytical analysis of compound libraries. J. Comb. Chem. 2003;5(3):322–329. [PubMed]
(19) Zhao Z, Wisnoski DD, O'Brien JA, Lemaire W, Williams DL, Jr., Jacobsen MA, Wittman M, Ha SN, Schaffhauser H, Sur C, Pettibone DJ, Duggan ME, Conn PJ, Hartmann GD, Lindsley CW. Challenges in the development of mGluR5 positive allosteric modulators: the discovery of CPPHA. Bioorg. Med. Chem. Lett. 2007;17(5):1386–1391. [PubMed]
(20) Lindsley CW, Wisnoski DD, Leister WH, O'Brien JA, Lemaire W, Williams DL, Jr., Burno M, Sur C, Kinney GG, Pettibone DJ, Tiller PR, Smith S, Duggan ME, Hartman GD, Conn PJ, Huff JR. Discovery of positive allosteric modulators for the metabotropic glutamate subtype 5 from a series of N-(1,3-diphenyl-1H-pyrazol-5-yl)benzamides that potentiate function in vivo. J. Med. Chem. 2004;47(24):5825–5828. [PubMed]
(21) Bolea C. Amido derivatives and their use as positive allosteric modulators of metabotropic glutamate receptors. PCT Int. Appl. :67. WO2009/010454.