alpha7 nicotinic acetylcholine receptor agonist properties of tilorone and related tricyclic analogues

Br J Pharmacol. 2008 Mar;153(5):1054-61. doi: 10.1038/sj.bjp.0707649. Epub 2007 Dec 24.


Background and purpose: The alpha7 nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (nAChR) has attracted considerable interest as a target for cognitive enhancement in schizophrenia and Alzheimer's Disease. However, most recently described alpha7 agonists are derived from the quinuclidine structural class. Alternatively, the present study identifies tilorone as a novel alpha7-selective agonist and characterizes analogues developed from this lead.

Experimental approach: Activity and selectivity were determined from rat brain alpha7 and alpha4beta2 nAChR binding, recombinant nAChR activation, and native alpha7 nAChR mediated stimulation of ERK1/2 phosphorylation in PC12 cells.

Key results: Tilorone bound alpha7 nAChR (IC(50) 110 nM) with high selectivity relative to alpha4beta2 (IC(50) 70 000 nM), activated human alpha7 nAChR with an EC(50) value of 2.5 microM and maximal response of 67% relative to acetylcholine, and showed little agonist effect at human alpha3beta4 or alpha4beta2 nAChRs. However, the rat alpha7 nAChR maximal response was only 34%. Lead optimization led to 2-(5-methyl-hexahydro-pyrrolo[3,4-c]pyrrol-2-yl)-xanthen-9-one (A-844606) with improved binding (alpha7 IC(50) 11 nM, alpha4beta2 IC(50)>30 000 nM) and activity at both human and rat alpha7 nAChR (EC(50)s 1.4 and 2.2 microM and apparent efficacies 61 and 63%, respectively). These compounds also activated native alpha7 nAChR, stimulating ERK1/2 phosphorylation in PC12 cells.

Conclusions and implications: Tilorone, known as an interferon inducer, is a selective alpha7 nAChR agonist, suggesting utility of the fluorenone pharmacophore for the development of alpha7 nAChR selective agonists. Whether alpha7 stimulation mediates interferon induction, or whether interferon induction may influence the potential anti-inflammatory properties of alpha7 nAChR agonists remains to be elucidated.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents / administration & dosage
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents / pharmacology*
  • Brain / metabolism
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Humans
  • Inhibitory Concentration 50
  • Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinase 1 / drug effects
  • Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinase 1 / metabolism
  • Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinase 3 / drug effects
  • Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinase 3 / metabolism
  • PC12 Cells
  • Phosphorylation / drug effects
  • Protein Binding
  • Pyrroles / administration & dosage
  • Pyrroles / pharmacology*
  • Rats
  • Receptors, Nicotinic / drug effects*
  • Receptors, Nicotinic / metabolism
  • Tilorone / administration & dosage
  • Tilorone / analogs & derivatives
  • Tilorone / pharmacology*
  • Xanthones / administration & dosage
  • Xanthones / pharmacology*
  • alpha7 Nicotinic Acetylcholine Receptor


  • 2-(5-methylhexahydropyrrolo(3,4-c)pyrrol-2-yl)xanthen-9-one
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents
  • Chrna7 protein, human
  • Chrna7 protein, rat
  • Pyrroles
  • Receptors, Nicotinic
  • Xanthones
  • alpha7 Nicotinic Acetylcholine Receptor
  • Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinase 1
  • Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinase 3
  • Tilorone