Mechanistic Insights into the Stimulant Properties of Novel Psychoactive Substances (NPS) and Their Discrimination by the Dopamine Transporter—In Silico and In Vitro Exploration of Dissociative Diarylethylamines

M Sahai, Colin Davidson, Neelakshi Dutta, Jolanta Opacka Juffry

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Novel psychoactive substances (NPS) may have unsuspected addiction potential through possessing stimulant properties. Stimulants normally act at the dopamine transporter (DAT) and thus increase dopamine (DA) availability in the brain, including nucleus accumbens, within the reward and addiction pathway. This paper aims to assess DAT responses to dissociative diarylethylamine NPS by means of in vitro and in silico approaches. We compared diphenidine (DPH) and 2-methoxydiphenidine (methoxphenidine, 2-MXP/MXP) for their binding to rat DAT, using autoradiography assessment of [125I]RTI-121 displacement in rat striatal sections. The drugs’ effects on electrically-evoked DA efflux were measured by means of fast cyclic voltammetry in rat accumbens slices. Computational modeling, molecular dynamics and alchemical free energy simulations were used to analyse the atomistic changes within DAT in response to each of the five dissociatives: DPH, 2-MXP, 3-MXP, 4-MXP and 2-Cl-DPH, and to calculate their relative binding free energy. DPH increased DA efflux as a result of its binding to DAT, whereas MXP had no significant effect on either DAT binding or evoked DA efflux. Our computational findings corroborate the above and explain the conformational responses and atomistic processes within DAT during its interactions with the dissociative NPS. We suggest DPH can have addictive liability, unlike MXP, despite the chemical similarities of these two NPS.

© 2018 The Author(s). This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC-BY 4.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited. See
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)63
JournalBrain Sciences
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 7 Apr 2018

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