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1.  Characterization of Maleimide-Based Glycogen Synthase Kinase-3 (GSK-3) Inhibitors as Stimulators of Steroidogenesis 
Journal of medicinal chemistry  2013;56(12):5115-5129.
Inhibition of GSK-3β has been well documented to account for the behavioral actions of the mood stabilizer lithium in various animal models of mood disorders. Recent studies have showed that genetic or pharmacological inhibition of GSK-3β resulted in anxiolytic-like and pro-social behavior. In our ongoing efforts to develop GSK-3β inhibitors for the treatment of mood disorders, SAR studies on maleimide-based compounds were undertaken. We present herein for the first time that some of these GSK-3β inhibitors, in particular analogs 1 and 9, were able to stimulate progesterone production in the MA-10 mouse tumor Leydig cell model of steroidogenesis without any significant toxicity. These two compounds were tested in the SmartCube® behavioral assay and showed anxiolytic-like signatures following daily dose administration (50 mg/kg, i.p.) for 13 days. Taken together, these results support the hypothesis that GSK-3β inhibition could influence neuroactive steroid production thereby mediating the modulation of anxiety-like behavior in vivo.
doi:10.1021/jm400511s
PMCID: PMC3777810  PMID: 23725591
kinase inhibitor; GSK-3; maleimides; steroidogenesis; lithium; anxiolytic
2.  Discovery of Highly Potent and Selective α4β2-Nicotinic Acetylcholine Receptor (nAChR) Partial Agonists Containing an Isoxazolylpyridine Ether Scaffold that Demonstrate Antidepressant-like Activity. Part II 
Journal of medicinal chemistry  2012;55(22):9998-10009.
In our continued efforts to develop α4β2-nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (nAChR) partial agonists as novel antidepressants having a unique mechanism of action, structure activity relationship (SAR) exploration of certain isoxazolylpyridine ethers is presented. In particular, modifications to both the azetidine ring present in the starting structure 4 and its metabolically liable hydroxyl side chain substituent have been explored to improve compound druggability. The pharmacological characterization of all new compounds has been carried out using [3H]epibatidine binding studies together with functional assays based on 86Rb+ ion flux measurements. We found that the deletion of the metabolically liable hydroxyl group or its replacement by a fluoromethyl group not only maintained potency and selectivity, but also resulted in compounds showing antidepressant-like properties in the mouse forced swim test. These isoxazolylpyridine ethers appear to represent promising lead candidates in the design of innovative chemical tools containing reporter groups for imaging purposes and of possible therapeutics.
doi:10.1021/jm301177j
PMCID: PMC3532055  PMID: 23092294
3.  Insights into the Structural Determinants Required for High Affinity Binding of Chiral Cyclopropane-Containing Ligands to α4β2-Nicotinic Acetylcholine Receptors; An Integrated Approach to Behaviorally Active Nicotinic Ligands 
Journal of medicinal chemistry  2012;55(18):8028-8037.
Structure-based drug design can potentially accelerate the development of new therapeutics. In this study, a co-crystal structure of the acetylcholine binding protein (AChBP) from Capitella teleta (Ct) in complex with a cyclopropane-containing, selective α4β2-nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (nAChR) partial agonist (compound 5) was acquired. The structural determinants required for ligand binding obtained from this AChBP X-ray structure were used to refine our previous model of the human α4β2-nAChR, thus possibly providing a better understanding of the structure of the human receptor. In order to validate the potential application of the structure of the Ct-AChBP in the engineering of new α4β2-nAChR ligands, homology modeling methods, combined with in silico ADME calculations, were used to design analogs of compound 5. The most promising compound 12, exhibited an improved metabolic stability in comparison to the parent compound 5 while retaining favorable pharmacological parameters together with appropriate behavioral endpoints in the rodent studies.
doi:10.1021/jm3008739
PMCID: PMC3464052  PMID: 22928944
4.  Identification of Novel α4β2-Nicotinic Acetylcholine Receptor (nAChR) Agonists Based on an Isoxazole Ether Scaffold that Demonstrate Antidepressant-like Activity 
Journal of Medicinal Chemistry  2012;55(2):812-823.
There is considerable evidence to support the hypothesis that the blockade of nAChR is responsible for the antidepressant action of nicotinic ligands. The nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (nAChR) antagonist, mecamylamine, has been shown to be an effective add-on in patients that do not respond to selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. This suggests that nAChR ligands may address an unmet clinical need by providing relief from depressive symptoms in refractory patients. In this study, a new series of nAChR ligands based on an isoxazole-ether scaffold have been designed and synthesized for binding and functional assays. Preliminary structure-activity relationship (SAR) efforts identified a lead compound 43, which possesses potent antidepressant-like activity (1 mg/kg, IP; 5 mg/kg, PO) in the classical mouse forced swim test. Early stage absorption, distribution, metabolism, excretion, and toxicity (ADME-Tox) studies also suggested favorable drug-like properties, and broad screening towards other common neurotransmitter receptors indicated that compound 43 is highly selective for nAChRs over the other 45 neurotransmitter receptors and transporters tested.
doi:10.1021/jm201301h
PMCID: PMC3272775  PMID: 22148173
5.  Chemistry and Behavioral Studies Identify Chiral Cyclopropanes as Selective α4β2-Nicotinic Acetylcholine Receptor Partial Agonists Exhibiting an Antidepressant Profile 
Journal of Medicinal Chemistry  2012;55(2):717-724.
Despite their discovery in the early 20th century and intensive study over the last twenty years, nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs) are still far from being well understood. Only a few chemical entities targeting nAChRs are currently undergoing clinical trials, and even fewer have reached the marketplace. In our efforts to discover novel and truly selective nAChR ligands, we designed and synthesized a series of chiral cyclopropane-containing α4β2-specific ligands that display low nanomolar binding affinities and excellent subtype selectivity, while acting as partial agonists at α4β2-nAChRs. Their favorable antidepressant-like properties were demonstrated in the classical mouse forced swim test. Preliminary ADMET studies and broad screening towards other common neurotransmitter receptors were also carried out to further evaluate their safety profile and eliminate their potential off-target activity. These highly potent cyclopropane ligands possess superior subtype selectivity compared to other α4β2-nAChR agonists reported to date, including the marketed drug varenicline, and therefore may fully satisfy the crucial prerequisite for avoiding adverse side effects. These novel chemical entities could potentially be advanced to the clinic as new drug candidates for treating depression.
doi:10.1021/jm201157c
PMCID: PMC3292870  PMID: 22171543
6.  Discovery of Isoxazole Analogs of Sazetidine-A as Selective α4β2-Nicotinic Acetylcholine Receptor (nAChR) Partial Agonists for the Treatment of Depression 
Journal of medicinal chemistry  2011;54(20):7280-7288.
Depression, a common neurological condition, is one of the leading causes of disability and suicide worldwide. Standard treatment targeting monoamine transporters selective for the neurotransmitters serotonin and noradrenalin are not able to help many patients that are poor responders. This study advances the development of sazetidine-A analogs that interact with α4β2-nAChR as partial agonists and that possess favorable antidepressant profiles. The resulting compounds that are highly selective for the α4β2 subtype of nAChR over α3β4-nAChRs are partial agonists at the α4β2 subtype and have excellent antidepressant behavioral profiles as measured by the mouse forced swim test. Preliminary ADMET studies for one promising ligand revealed an excellent plasma protein binding (PPB) profile, low CYP450 related metabolism, and low cardiovascular toxicity, suggesting it is a promising lead as well as a drug candidate to be advanced through the drug discovery pipeline.
doi:10.1021/jm200855b
PMCID: PMC3197876  PMID: 21905669
7.  Dissociation between duration of action in the forced swim test and nicotinic acetylcholine receptor occupancy with sazetidine, varenicline, and 5-I-A85380 
Psychopharmacology  2011;217(2):199-210.
RATIONALE
Nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (nAChR) agonists, partial agonists and antagonists have antidepressant-like effects in rodent models and reduce symptoms of depression in humans.
OBJECTIVE
The aim of this study was to determine if the β2* partial agonist sazetidine-A (sazetidine) showed an antidepressant-like effect in the forced swim test that was mediated by β2* nAChRs activation or desensitization.
RESULTS
Sazetidine, the less selective β2* partial agonist varenicline and the full β2* agonist 5-I-A8350, exhibited acute antidepressant-like effects in the forced swim test. The role of β2* nAChRs was confirmed by results showing 1) reversal of sazetidine’s antidepressant-like effects in the forced swim test by nAChR antagonists mecamylamine and dihydro-β-erythroidine (DHβE); 2) no effect of sazetidine in mice lacking the β2 subunit of the nAChR; and 3) a high correspondence between behaviorally active doses of sazetidine and β2* receptor occupancy. β2* receptor occupancy following acute sazetidine, varenicline, and 5-I-A8350 extended beyond the duration of action in the forced swim test. The long lasting receptor occupancy of sazetidine did not diminish behavioral efficacy in the forced swim test following repeated dosing.
CONCLUSIONS
These results demonstrate that activation of β2* nAChRs mediate sazetidine’s antidepressant-like actions and suggest that ligands that activate β2* nAChRs would be promising targets for the development of a new class of antidepressant.
doi:10.1007/s00213-011-2271-y
PMCID: PMC3266849  PMID: 21487659
nicotinic receptor; antidepressant; sazetidine-A; AMOP-H-OH; varenicline; 5-I-A85380; receptor occupancy; forced swim
8.  Psychostimulant-like discriminative stimulus and locomotor sensitization properties of the wake-promoting agent modafinil in rodents 
The present studies assessed the potential abuse liability and likely mechanism(s) of action of the wake-promoting agent modafinil.
Methods
Experiments assessed the locomotor sensitization (LS) and discriminative stimulus (DS) properties of modafinil in mouse and rat, respectively. Comparative data were generated with a range of psychostimulants and monoamine reuptake inhibitors.
Results
Repeated administration of d-amphetamine and cocaine, psychostimulants with high abuse liability, resulted in the induction and expression of LS in mice. Bupropion and caffeine, two psychostimulants not abused in humans, were not associated with LS. GBR12909 induced LS during repeated exposure, but there was no evidence of expression of LS after acute challenge following withdrawal. In contrast, repeated administration of modafinil resulted in the expression, but not induction, of LS. d-amphetamine, but not the μ-opioid agonist morphine or the nAChR agonist nicotine, fully substituted for the cocaine DS in rats. The selective dopamine transporter (DAT) inhibitor GBR12909 fully substituted, the preferential norepinephrine transporter (NET) inhibitor desipramine partially substituted, and the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor citalopram failed to substitute for cocaine. Modafinil fully substituted for cocaine, similar to the mixed DAT/NET inhibitor bupropion.
Conclusions
Two preclinical assays indicated potential abuse liability of modafinil; drug discrimination studies suggest DAT blockade by modafinil is a likely mechanism of action in vivo.
doi:10.1016/j.pbb.2010.03.006
PMCID: PMC2880855  PMID: 20346966
modafinil; locomotor sensitization; drug discrimination; cocaine; d-amphetamine; bupropion; citalopram; desipramine; GBR12909; caffeine; morphine; nicotine; rat; mouse

Results 1-8 (8)