Sigma-1 receptor agonists as therapeutic drugs for cognitive impairment in neuropsychiatric diseases

Curr Pharm Des. 2012;18(7):875-83. doi: 10.2174/138161212799436476.


Cognitive impairment is a core feature of patients with neuropsychiatric diseases such as schizophrenia and psychotic depression. The drugs currently used to treat cognitive impairment have significant limitations, ensuring that the search for more effective therapies remains active. Endoplasmic reticulum protein sigma-1 receptors are unique binding sites in the brain that exert a potent effect on multiple neurotransmitter systems. Accumulating evidence suggests that sigma-1 receptors play a role in both the pathophysiology of neuropsychiatric diseases, and the mechanistic action of some therapeutic drugs, such as the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), donepezil and neurosteroids. Among SSRIs, fluvoxamine, a potent sigma-1 receptor agonist, has the highest affinity at sigma-1 receptors. Sigma-1 receptor agonists greatly potentiate nerve-growth factor (NGF)-induced neurite outgrowth in PC12 cells, an effect that is antagonized by treatment with the selective sigma-1 receptor antagonist NE-100. Furthermore, phencyclidine (PCP)-induced cognitive impairment, associated with animal models of schizophrenia is significantly improved by sub-chronic administration of sigma-1 receptor agonists such as fluvoxamine, SA4503 (cutamesine) and donepezil. This effect is antagonized by co-administration of NE-100. A positron emission tomography (PET) study using the specific sigma-1 receptor ligand [11C]SA4503 demonstrates that fluvoxamine and donepezil bind to sigma-1 receptors in the healthy human brain. In clinical studies, some sigma-1 receptor agonists, including fluvoxamine, donepezil and neurosteroids, improve cognitive impairment and clinical symptoms in neuropsychiatric diseases. In this article, we review the recent findings on sigma-1 receptor agonists as potential therapeutic drugs for the treatment of cognitive impairment in schizophrenia and psychotic depression.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cognition Disorders / complications
  • Cognition Disorders / drug therapy*
  • Humans
  • Mental Disorders / complications
  • Mental Disorders / drug therapy*
  • Nootropic Agents / pharmacology
  • Nootropic Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Receptors, sigma / agonists*
  • Sigma-1 Receptor


  • Nootropic Agents
  • Receptors, sigma