Pharmacosynthetics: Reimagining the pharmacogenetic approach

Brain Res. 2013 May 20;1511:6-20. doi: 10.1016/j.brainres.2012.09.043. Epub 2012 Oct 9.


Pharmacology, in its broadest interpretation, is defined as the study of the interaction between physiological entities and drugs. In modern neuropsychopharmacology, this interaction is viewed as the drug itself on one side and signal transducer (receptor), the signal transduction cascade (effector proteins, second messengers), the cellular response (transcriptional regulation, activity modulation), the organ response (brain circuitry modulation), and, finally, the whole organism response (behavior) on the other. In other words, pharmacology has structured itself around the idea that the exogenous molecule (the drug) encodes a "signal" leading to everything on the other side including, in extreme renditions, a physiological response. The inference is that engaging a particular signal transduction pathway in a defined cell type leads inexorably to a prototypic physiological response. Thus, for instance, serotonergic activation of 5-HT(2A) receptors in rat aortic smooth muscle cells leads to an increase in intracellular Ca(++) (via IP₃ release) and smooth muscle contraction (Roth et al., 1986). Here, we suggest that the invention of synthetic ligand--GPCR pairs (aka DREADDs, RASSLS, 'pharmacogenetics') permits the study of pharmacology using a shifted equation: more of the signal transduction elements moved to the left and, subsequently, under experimental control. For the purposes of disambiguation and to clarify this new interpretation as a creation of pharmacological manipulation, we present the term pharmacosynthetics to describe what has heretofore been called pharmacogenetics or chemicogenetics. This review discusses this new interpretation and reviews recent applications of the technology and considerations of the approach. This article is part of a Special Issue entitled Optogenetics (7th BRES).

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Models, Biological
  • Neurons / drug effects*
  • Neurons / physiology
  • Pharmacogenetics*
  • Receptors, G-Protein-Coupled / genetics*
  • Receptors, G-Protein-Coupled / metabolism
  • Signal Transduction / drug effects*
  • Signal Transduction / genetics*


  • Receptors, G-Protein-Coupled