Locomotor activation by theacrine, a purine alkaloid structurally similar to caffeine: involvement of adenosine and dopamine receptors

Pharmacol Biochem Behav. 2012 Aug;102(2):241-8. doi: 10.1016/j.pbb.2012.04.014. Epub 2012 May 9.


Purine compounds, such as caffeine, have many health-promoting properties and have proven to be beneficial in treating a number of different conditions. Theacrine, a purine alkaloid structurally similar to caffeine and abundantly present in Camellia kucha, has recently become of interest as a potential therapeutic compound. In the present study, theacrine was tested using a rodent behavioral model to investigate the effects of the drug on locomotor activity. Long Evans rats were injected with theacrine (24 or 48 mg/kg, i.p.) and activity levels were measured. Results showed that the highest dose of theacrine (48 mg/kg, i.p.) significantly increased locomotor activity compared to control animals and activity remained elevated throughout the duration of the session. To test for the involvement of adenosine receptors underlying theacrine's motor-activating properties, rats were administered a cocktail of the adenosine A₁ agonist, N⁶-cyclopentyladenosine (CPA; 0.1 mg/kg, i.p.) and A(2A) receptor agonist 2-p-(2-carboxyethyl)phenethylamino-5'-N-ethylcarboxamidoadenosine (CGS-21680; 0.2 mg/kg, i.p.). Pre-treatment with theacrine significantly attenuated the motor depression induced by the adenosine receptor agonists, indicating that theacrine is likely acting as an adenosine receptor antagonist. Next, we examined the role of DA D₁ and D₂ receptor antagonism on theacrine-induced hyperlocomotion. Both antagonists, D₁R SCH23390 (0.1 or 0.05 mg/kg, i.p.) and D₂R eticlopride (0.1 mg/kg, i.p.), significantly reduced theacrine-stimulated activity indicating that this behavioral response, at least in part, is mediated by DA receptors. In order to investigate the brain region where theacrine may be acting, the drug (10 or 20 μg) was infused bilaterally into nucleus accumbens (NAc). Theacrine enhanced activity levels in a dose-dependent manner, implicating a role of the NAc in modulating theacrine's effects on locomotion. In addition, theacrine did not induce locomotor sensitization or tolerance after chronic exposure. Taken together, these findings demonstrate that theacrine significantly enhances activity; an effect which is mediated by both the adenosinergic and dopaminergic systems.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Locomotion / drug effects*
  • Nucleus Accumbens / drug effects
  • Rats
  • Rats, Long-Evans
  • Receptors, Dopamine / physiology*
  • Receptors, Purinergic P1 / physiology*
  • Uric Acid / analogs & derivatives*
  • Uric Acid / chemistry
  • Uric Acid / pharmacology


  • Receptors, Dopamine
  • Receptors, Purinergic P1
  • Uric Acid
  • 1,3,7,9-tetramethyluric acid