Melanopsin (opsin4; Opn4), a non-image-forming opsin, has been linked to a number of behavioral responses to light, including circadian photo-entrainment, light suppression of activity in nocturnal animals, and alertness in diurnal animals. We report a physiological role for Opn4 in regulating blood vessel function, particularly in the context of photorelaxation. Using PCR, we demonstrate that Opn4 (a classic G protein-coupled receptor) is expressed in blood vessels. Force-tension myography demonstrates that vessels from Opn4(-/-) mice fail to display photorelaxation, which is also inhibited by an Opn4-specific small-molecule inhibitor. The vasorelaxation is wavelength-specific, with a maximal response at ?430-460 nm. Photorelaxation does not involve endothelial-, nitric oxide-, carbon monoxide-, or cytochrome p450-derived vasoactive prostanoid signaling but is associated with vascular hyperpolarization, as shown by intracellular membrane potential measurements. Signaling is both soluble guanylyl cyclase- and phosphodiesterase 6-dependent but protein kinase G-independent. ?-Adrenergic receptor kinase 1 (?ARK 1 or GRK2) mediates desensitization of photorelaxation, which is greatly reduced by GRK2 inhibitors. Blue light (455 nM) regulates tail artery vasoreactivity ex vivo and tail blood blood flow in vivo, supporting a potential physiological role for this signaling system. This endogenous opsin-mediated, light-activated molecular switch for vasorelaxation might be harnessed for therapy in diseases in which altered vasoreactivity is a significant pathophysiologic contributor.
Chronic nicotine administration increases the density of brain ?4?2* nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs), which may contribute to nicotine addiction by exacerbating withdrawal symptoms associated with smoking cessation. Varenicline, a smoking cessation drug, also increases these receptors in rodent brain. The maintenance of this increase by varenicline as well as nicotine replacement may contribute to the high rate of relapse during the first year after smoking cessation. Recently, we found that sazetidine-A (saz-A), a potent partial agonist that desensitizes ?4?2* nAChRs, does not increase the density of these receptors in brain at doses that decrease nicotine self-administration, increase attention in rats, and produce anxiolytic effects in mice. Here, we investigated whether chronic saz-A and varenicline maintain the density of nAChRs after their up-regulation by nicotine. In addition, we examined the effects of these drugs on a measure of anxiety in mice and weight gain in rats. After increasing nAChRs in the rodent brain with chronic nicotine, replacing nicotine with chronic varenicline maintained the increased nAChR binding, as well as the ?4?2 subunit proteins measured by western blots. In contrast, replacing nicotine treatments with chronic saz-A resulted in the return of the density of nAChRs to the levels seen in saline controls. Nicotine, saz-A and varenicline each demonstrated anxiolytic effects in mice, but only saz-A and nicotine attenuated the gain of weight over a 6-week period in rats. These findings suggest that apart from its modest anxiolytic and weight control effects, saz-A, or drugs like it, may be useful in achieving long-term abstinence from smoking.
Chronic nicotine administration increases ?4?2 neuronal nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (nAChR) density in brain. This up-regulation probably contributes to the development and/or maintenance of nicotine dependence. nAChR up-regulation is believed to be triggered at the ligand binding site, so it is not surprising that other nicotinic ligands also up-regulate nAChRs in the brain. These other ligands include varenicline, which is currently used for smoking cessation therapy. Sazetidine-A (saz-A) is a newer nicotinic ligand that binds with high affinity and selectivity at ?4?2* nAChRs. In behavioral studies, saz-A decreases nicotine self-administration and increases performance on tasks of attention. We report here that, unlike nicotine and varenicline, chronic administration of saz-A at behaviorally active and even higher doses does not up-regulate nAChRs in rodent brains. We used a newly developed method involving radioligand binding to measure the concentrations and nAChR occupancy of saz-A, nicotine, and varenicline in brains from chronically treated rats. Our results indicate that saz-A reached concentrations in the brain that were ?150 times its affinity for ?4?2* nAChRs and occupied at least 75% of nAChRs. Thus, chronic administration of saz-A did not up-regulate nAChRs despite it reaching brain concentrations that are known to bind and desensitize virtually all ?4?2* nAChRs in brain. These findings reinforce a model of nicotine addiction based on desensitization of up-regulated nAChRs and introduce a potential new strategy for smoking cessation therapy in which drugs such as saz-A can promote smoking cessation without maintaining nAChR up-regulation, thereby potentially increasing the rate of long-term abstinence from nicotine.
We have developed a new radioligand binding assay method to measure the concentration of nonradiolabeled drugs in the brain ex vivo. This new method fuses the concepts of standard competition and saturation binding assays and uses a transformed version of the Cheng-Prusoff equation (Biochem Pharmacol 22:3099-3108, 1973) to calculate the drug concentration. After testing the validity of this method, we demonstrated its utility by measuring the brain concentration of sazetidine-A, a newly developed nicotinic receptor ligand, and its elimination rate after a single subcutaneous administration. Our results indicate that sazetidine-A reaches brain concentrations that are known to occupy and desensitize the majority of neuronal nicotinic acetylcholine receptor binding sites. Furthermore, using this method, we estimated the half-life of sazetidine-A in the rat brain to be ?65 min. It is important to note that the method described here to measure sazetidine-A in brain should be generalizable to other drugs acting at any receptor that can be reliably measured with a radiolabeled ligand.
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