In Vitro and In Vivo Characterization of the Alkaloid Nuciferine

PLoS One. 2016 Mar 10;11(3):e0150602. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0150602. eCollection 2016.


Rationale: The sacred lotus (Nelumbo nucifera) contains many phytochemicals and has a history of human use. To determine which compounds may be responsible for reported psychotropic effects, we used in silico predictions of the identified phytochemicals. Nuciferine, an alkaloid component of Nelumbo nucifera and Nymphaea caerulea, had a predicted molecular profile similar to antipsychotic compounds. Our study characterizes nuciferine using in vitro and in vivo pharmacological assays.

Methods: Nuciferine was first characterized in silico using the similarity ensemble approach, and was followed by further characterization and validation using the Psychoactive Drug Screening Program of the National Institute of Mental Health. Nuciferine was then tested in vivo in the head-twitch response, pre-pulse inhibition, hyperlocomotor activity, and drug discrimination paradigms.

Results: Nuciferine shares a receptor profile similar to aripiprazole-like antipsychotic drugs. Nuciferine was an antagonist at 5-HT2A, 5-HT2C, and 5-HT2B, an inverse agonist at 5-HT7, a partial agonist at D2, D5 and 5-HT6, an agonist at 5-HT1A and D4 receptors, and inhibited the dopamine transporter. In rodent models relevant to antipsychotic drug action, nuciferine blocked head-twitch responses and discriminative stimulus effects of a 5-HT2A agonist, substituted for clozapine discriminative stimulus, enhanced amphetamine induced locomotor activity, inhibited phencyclidine (PCP)-induced locomotor activity, and rescued PCP-induced disruption of prepulse inhibition without induction of catalepsy.

Conclusions: The molecular profile of nuciferine was similar but not identical to that shared with several approved antipsychotic drugs suggesting that nuciferine has atypical antipsychotic-like actions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antipsychotic Agents / chemistry*
  • Antipsychotic Agents / pharmacology*
  • Aporphines / chemistry*
  • Aporphines / pharmacology*
  • Behavior, Animal / drug effects
  • HEK293 Cells
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Receptors, Dopamine D4 / agonists
  • Serotonin 5-HT1 Receptor Agonists / chemistry*
  • Serotonin 5-HT1 Receptor Agonists / pharmacology*


  • Antipsychotic Agents
  • Aporphines
  • Serotonin 5-HT1 Receptor Agonists
  • Receptors, Dopamine D4
  • nuciferine