Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Pharmaceutical Sciences

First Advisor

Dr. Richard A. Glennon


Synthetic cathinones represent threatening and high abuse-potential designer drugs. These are analogs of cathinone (the b-keto analog of amphetamine (AMPH)) a naturally occurring stimulant found in the plant Catha Edulis. Methcathinone (MCAT) was the first synthetic analog of cathinone to be identified in 1987 by Glennon and co-workers and it exerted its action primarily through the dopamine transporter (DAT). Most central stimulants exert their action via monomaine transporters by causing either the release (e.g. cathinone analogs such as MCAT) or by preventing the reuptake (e.g. cocaine) of the neurotransmitter dopamine (DA) thus increasing the extracellular synaptosomal concentration of this neurotransmitter. In 2010, a new class of designer cathinone-like drugs called ‘bath salts’, initially a combination of methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV), methylone (methylenedioxymethcathione, MDMC) and mephedrone (MEPH), soared to popularity. It caused extremely detrimental side effects; it was exceedingly popular for its recreational use and posed a threat to public health. At the time, their mechanisms of action were unknown. Our group identified that MDPV produced actions distinct from other cathinone analogs (i.e., it was identified as the first cathinone-like compound to act as a reuptake inhibitor at the dopamine transporter (DAT)). These findings suggested that not all cathinone-like compounds act uniformly and this insinuated that unique structural features on the cathinone scaffold might contribute to different effects at the transporter level. The overall goal of this project was to study the mechanisms of action of synthetic cathinones (including ‘bath salts’) at the monoamine transporters. We investigated the contribution of each of various structural features on the cathinone scaffold (i.e, the terminal amine, a and b positions, and the phenyl ring). We also constructed homology models of the human dopamine and serotonin transporters (hDAT and hSERT respectively) to help explain differences in selectivity between the neurochemical and behavioral aspects of DAT and SERT. Overall we found that structural features contributed to similar or distinctive mechanisms of action and also contributed to selectivity at monoamine transporters. Our studies provide information that can be useful to drug and health regulatory agencies to help prevent, treat, or curb the future abuse of such drugs.


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