Sigma (sigma) receptors, initially described as a subtype of opioid receptors, are now considered unique receptors. Pharmacological studies have distinguished two types of sigma receptors, termed sigma(1) and sigma(2). Of these two subtypes, the sigma(1) receptor has been cloned in humans and rodents, and its amino acid sequence shows no homology with other mammalian proteins. Several psychoactive drugs show high to moderate affinity for sigma(1) receptors, including the antipsychotic haloperidol, the antidepressant drugs fluvoxamine and sertraline, and the psychostimulants cocaine and methamphetamine; in addition, the anticonvulsant drug phenytoin allosterically modulates sigma(1) receptors. Certain neurosteroids are known to interact with sigma(1) receptors, and have been proposed to be their endogenous ligands. These receptors are located in the plasma membrane and in subcellular membranes, particularly in the endoplasmic reticulum, where they play a modulatory role in intracellular Ca(2+) signaling. Sigma(1) receptors also play a modulatory role in the activity of some ion channels and in several neurotransmitter systems, mainly in glutamatergic neurotransmission. In accordance with their widespread modulatory role, sigma(1) receptor ligands have been proposed to be useful in several therapeutic fields such as amnesic and cognitive deficits, depression and anxiety, schizophrenia, analgesia, and against some effects of drugs of abuse (such as cocaine and methamphetamine). In this review we provide an overview of the present knowledge of sigma(1) receptors, focussing on sigma(1) ligand neuropharmacology and the role of sigma(1) receptors in behavioral animal studies, which have contributed greatly to the potential therapeutic applications of sigma(1) ligands.
Keywords: Sigma-1 receptors; analgesia; cocaine.; depression and anxiety; drugs of abuse; learning and memory; pain; schizophrenia.