Monoamine transporter and receptor interaction profiles of a new series of designer cathinones

Neuropharmacology. 2014 Apr:79:152-60. doi: 10.1016/j.neuropharm.2013.11.008. Epub 2013 Nov 22.


Psychoactive β-keto amphetamines (cathinones) are sold as "bath salts" or "legal highs" and recreationally abused. We characterized the pharmacology of a new series of cathinones, including methedrone, 4-methylethcathinone (4-MEC), 3-fluoromethcathinone (3-FMC), pentylone, ethcathinone, buphedrone, pentedrone, and N,N-dimethylcathinone. We investigated norepinephrine (NE), dopamine (DA), and serotonin (5-HT) uptake inhibition using human embryonic kidney 293 (HEK 293) cells that express the respective human monoamine transporter, the drug-induced efflux of NE, DA, and 5-HT from monoamine-preloaded cells, and binding affinity to monoamine transporters and receptors. All of the cathinones were potent NE uptake inhibitors but differed in their DA vs. 5-HT transporter inhibition profiles and monoamine release effects. Methedrone was a more potent 5-HT than DA transporter inhibitor and released NE and 5-HT similar to para-methoxymethamphetamine (PMMA), para-methoxyamphetamine (PMA), 4-methylthioamphetamine (4-MTA), and 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA). 4-MEC and pentylone equipotently inhibited all of the monoamine transporters and released 5-HT. Ethcathinone and 3-FMC inhibited NE and DA uptake and released NE, and 3-FMC also released DA similar to N-ethylamphetamine and methamphetamine. Pentedrone and N,N-dimethylcathinone were non-releasing NE and DA uptake inhibitors as previously shown for pyrovalerone cathinones. Buphedrone preferentially inhibited NE and DA uptake and also released NE. None of the cathinones bound to rodent trace amine-associated receptor 1, in contrast to the non-β-keto-amphetamines. None of the cathinones exhibited relevant binding to other monoamine receptors. In summary, we found considerable differences in the monoamine transporter interaction profiles among different cathinones and compared with related amphetamines.

Keywords: Bath salts; Dopamine; Norepinephrine; Serotonin; Transporter.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adrenergic Uptake Inhibitors / pharmacology
  • Amphetamines / pharmacology*
  • Biogenic Monoamines / metabolism*
  • Butyrophenones / pharmacology
  • Designer Drugs / pharmacology*
  • Dopamine Uptake Inhibitors / pharmacology
  • HEK293 Cells
  • Humans
  • Methylamines / pharmacology
  • Pentanones / pharmacology
  • Plasma Membrane Neurotransmitter Transport Proteins / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Plasma Membrane Neurotransmitter Transport Proteins / metabolism*
  • Propiophenones / pharmacology
  • Receptors, Biogenic Amine / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Receptors, Biogenic Amine / metabolism*
  • Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors / pharmacology


  • Adrenergic Uptake Inhibitors
  • Amphetamines
  • Biogenic Monoamines
  • Butyrophenones
  • Designer Drugs
  • Dopamine Uptake Inhibitors
  • Methylamines
  • Pentanones
  • Plasma Membrane Neurotransmitter Transport Proteins
  • Propiophenones
  • Receptors, Biogenic Amine
  • Serotonin Uptake Inhibitors
  • pentedrone
  • 3-fluoromethcathinone
  • 4-methylethcathinone
  • 2-ethylamino-1-phenyl-propan-1-one
  • pentylone
  • 4-methoxymethcathinone
  • buphedrone
  • N,N-dimethylcathinone