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Understanding the Molecular Mechanism of Sigma-1 Receptors: Towards A Hypothesis that Sigma-1 Receptors are Intracellular Amplifiers for Signal Transduction

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Although sigma receptors were discovered in 1982, the biochemical and physiological roles of sigma receptors have just begun to unveil. Sigma receptors are non-opioid, non-phencyclidine receptors that contain two subtypes: sigma-1 and sigma-2 receptors. The sigma-1 receptor has been cloned and its sequence does not resemble that of any mammalian protein. Sigma-2 receptors have not been cloned. The focus of this review will be on sigma-1 receptors. Sigma-1 receptors contain 223 amino acids and reside primarily at the endoplasmic reticulum. Sigma-1 receptors exist mainly in the central nervous system, but also in the periphery. Sigma-1 receptor ligands include cocaine, (+)-benzomorphans like (+)-pentazocine and (+)N-allyl-normetazocine (or (+)- SKF-10047), and endogenous neurosteroids like progesterone and pregnenolone sulfate. Many pharmacological and physiological actions have been attributed to sigma-1 receptors. These include the regulation of IP3 receptors and calcium signaling at the endoplasmic reticulum, mobilization of cytoskeletal adaptor proteins, modulation of nerve growth factor-induced neurite sprouting, modulation of neurotransmitter release and neuronal firing, modulation of potassium channels as a regulatory subunit, alteration of psychostimulant-induced gene expression, and blockade of spreading depression. Behaviorally, sigma-1 receptors are involved in learning and memory, psychostimulant-induced sensitization, cocaine-induced conditioned place preference, and pain perception. Notably, in almost all the aforementioned biochemical and behavioral tests, sigma-1 agonists, while having no effects by themselves, caused the amplification of signal transductions incurred upon the stimulation of the glutamatergic, dopaminergic, IP3-related metabotropic, or nerve growth factor-related systems. Thus, it is hypothesized that sigma-1 receptors, at least in part, are intracellular amplifiers creating a supersensitized state for signal transduction in the biological system.
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Keywords: Sigma; benzomorphans; dopaminergic; glutamatergic; metabotropic; psychostimulant

Document Type: Review Article

Affiliations: Chief, Cellular Pathobiology Unit / CNRB, IRP, NIDA / NIH / DHHS, 5500 Nathan Shock Drive, MD 21224, Baltimore, USA.

Publication date: October 1, 2003

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  • Current Medicinal Chemistry covers all the latest and outstanding developments in medicinal chemistry and rational drug design. Each issue contains a series of timely in-depth reviews written by leaders in the field covering a range of the current topics in medicinal chemistry. Current Medicinal Chemistry is an essential journal for every medicinal chemist who wishes to be kept informed and up-to-date with the latest and most important developments.
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