Stereochemistry of phase-1 metabolites of mephedrone determines their effectiveness as releasers at the serotonin transporter

Neuropharmacology. 2019 Apr;148:199-209. doi: 10.1016/j.neuropharm.2018.12.032. Epub 2019 Jan 2.


Mephedrone (4-methyl-N-methylcathinone) is a psychostimulant that promotes release of monoamines via the high affinity transporters for dopamine (DAT), norepinephrine (NET) and serotonin (SERT). Metabolic breakdown of mephedrone results in bioactive metabolites that act as substrate-type releasers at monoamine transporters and stereospecific metabolism of mephedrone has been reported. This study compared the effects of the enantiomers of the phase-1 metabolites nor-mephedrone, 4-hydroxytolyl-mephedrone (4-OH-mephedrone) and dihydro-mephedrone on (i) DAT, NET and SERT mediated substrate fluxes, (ii) determined their binding affinities towards a battery of monoamine receptors and (iii) examined the relative abundance of the enantiomers in human urine. Each of the enantiomers tested inhibited uptake mediated by DAT, NET and SERT. No marked differences were detected at DAT and NET. However, at SERT, the S-enantiomers of nor-mephedrone and 4-OH-mephedrone were several times more potent than the corresponding R-enantiomers. Moreover, the R-enantiomers were markedly less effective as releasers at SERT. S-nor-mephedrone displayed moderate affinities towards human alpha1A, human 5-HT2A and rat and mouse trace amine-associated receptor 1. These results demonstrate that stereochemistry dictates the pharmacodynamics of the phase-1 metabolites of mephedrone at SERT, but not at DAT and NET, which manifests in marked differences in their relative potencies, i.e. DAT/SERT ratios. Chiral analysis of urine samples demonstrated that nor-mephedrone predominantly exists as the S-enantiomer. Given the asymmetric abundance of the enantiomers in biological samples, these findings may add to our understanding of the subjective effects of administered mephedrone, which indicate pronounced effects on the serotonergic system.

Keywords: Cathinones; Dopamine; Mephedrone; New psychoactive substance; Serotonin; Stereoisomers.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adrenergic Uptake Inhibitors / pharmacology
  • Animals
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Dopamine Uptake Inhibitors / pharmacology
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Humans
  • Methadone / analogs & derivatives*
  • Methadone / pharmacology
  • Methadone / urine
  • Mice
  • Radioligand Assay
  • Rats
  • Receptors, Catecholamine / drug effects
  • Receptors, Serotonin / drug effects
  • Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors / pharmacology*
  • Stereoisomerism


  • Adrenergic Uptake Inhibitors
  • Dopamine Uptake Inhibitors
  • Receptors, Catecholamine
  • Receptors, Serotonin
  • Serotonin Uptake Inhibitors
  • normethadone
  • Methadone