Duquesne Research Looks to Reduce Side Effects of Medications for Depression, Addiction, Disease
A Duquesne University research team is attempting to unravel the regulation of dopamine, which leads to happiness. But happiness alone is not at the end of their search. The modulation of neurotransmitters dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine in the synaptic cleft, or space between nerves, is at the heart of many health issues: substance abuse, schizophrenia, anxiety, Parkinson's disease, attention deficit disorder, and depression. Medications may ease symptoms, but the team is also looking to reduce adverse side effects.
Dr. Jeffry D. Madura, professor of chemistry and biochemistry and a computational chemist in the Bayer School, is on the case with colleagues Dr. Christopher Surratt, professor of pharmacology; Dr. David Lapinsky, assistant professor of medicinal chemistry; and Dr. Michael Cascio, associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry. They are armed with 3-D computer modeling, pharmacology, medicinal chemistry, mass spectrometry and Madura's $288,000-grant from the National Institutes of Health and National Institute on Drug Abuse for CRCNS: Computational and Experimental Study of Dopamine and Serotonin Transporter.
By mapping how these critical neurotransmitters are controlled, they are trying to better understand the function and structure of the proteins that modulate the receptor/transporter processes of dopamine and serotonin as well as amphetamines and cocaine. The group already has identified a compound as a potential new class of serotonin inhibitors, which would work with the proteins that transport the hormone.
With virtual screening, which consists of building a model to screen compounds for potential serotonin transporter inhibitors, Madura and his team are searching for new antidepressant medication candidates.
"What is the order of what happens when a transporter moves a molecule from the synaptic cleft to the pre-synapse?" Madura asked. "We are analyzing molecular dynamic simulation results to understand the connections between the different transport steps."
The team has created seven simulations of what dopamine transporters likely will do and are analyzing this data for an overall picture of the transport process.
"From these results, we can propose physical modifications on the transporters that can be experimentally tested. We want to see if we can turn the transporters on or off, or if we can trap the transporters in a particular state," Madura explained. "We want to establish new types of scaffolds upon which new drugs can be designed that will reduce the adverse side effects of current antidepressants."
Their initial findings were reported in the Biophysical Journal at the end of 2012, with their detailed analysis expected to be published by year's end.
Founded in 1878, Duquesne is consistently ranked among the nation's top Catholic research universities for its award-winning faculty and tradition of academic excellence. The University is nationally ranked by U.S. News and World Report and the Princeton Review for its rich academic programs in nine schools of study for nearly 10,000 graduate and undergraduate students, and by the Washington Monthly for service and contributing to students' social mobility. Duquesne is a member of the U.S. President's Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll with Distinction for its contributions to Pittsburgh and communities around the globe. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Princeton Review's Guide to Green Colleges acknowledge Duquesne's commitment to sustainability.