Pharmacological targeting of dopamine D3 receptors: Possible clinical applications of selective drugs

Eur Neuropsychopharmacol. 2015 Sep;25(9):1437-47. doi: 10.1016/j.euroneuro.2015.07.012. Epub 2015 Jul 21.


Dopamine D3 receptors have been pharmacologically engaged in humans since the development of the first antipsychotics and ergot-derivative dopamine (DA) agonists, even without knowing it. These agents were generally non-selective, developed primarily to target D2 receptors. In the last 10 years the understanding of the clinical implication of D3 receptors has been progressing also due to the identification of D3 gene polymorphisms, the use of more selective PET ligands such as [(11)C]-(+)-PHNO and the learning regarding the clinical use of the D3-preferential D2/D3 agonists ropinirole and pramipexole. A new specific neuroplasticity role of D3 receptor regarding dendrite arborisation outgrowth in dopaminergic neurons was also proposed to support, at least in part, the slowing of disease observed in subjects with Parkinson׳s Disease treated with DA agonists. Similar mechanisms could be at the basis of the antidepressant-like effects observed with DA agonists when co-administered with standard of care. Severe adverse event occurring with the use of anti-parkinsonian DA agonists in predisposed subjects, i.e., impulse control disorders, are now suggested to be putatively related to overactive D3 receptors. Not surprisingly, blockade of D3 receptors was proposed as treatment for addictive disorders, a goal that could be potentially achieved by repositioning buspirone, an anxiolytic drug with D3-preferential antagonistic features, or with novel selective D3 antagonists or partial agonists currently in development for schizophrenia. At the moment ABT-925 is the only selective D3 antagonist tested in schizophrenic patients in Phase II, showing an intriguing cognitive enhancing effects supported by preclinical data. Finally, exploratory pharmacogenetic analysis suggested that ABT-925 could be effective in a subpopulation of patients with a polymorphism on the D3 receptor, opening to a possible personalised medicine approach.

Keywords: Addiction; D3-preferential D2/D3 antagonist; D3-preferential DA agonist; Parkinson disease; Schizophrenia; Selective D3 antagonist.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Dopamine Agents / pharmacology
  • Dopamine Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Humans
  • Mental Disorders / drug therapy
  • Mental Disorders / genetics
  • Mental Disorders / metabolism
  • Parkinson Disease / drug therapy
  • Parkinson Disease / genetics
  • Parkinson Disease / metabolism
  • Psychotropic Drugs / pharmacology
  • Psychotropic Drugs / therapeutic use
  • Receptors, Dopamine D3 / genetics
  • Receptors, Dopamine D3 / metabolism*


  • Dopamine Agents
  • Psychotropic Drugs
  • Receptors, Dopamine D3