Ligand design for human acetylcholinesterase and nicotinic acetylcholine receptors, extending beyond the conventional and canonical

J Neurochem. 2021 Sep;158(6):1217-1222. doi: 10.1111/jnc.15335. Epub 2021 Mar 12.


We detail here distinctive departures from lead classical cholinesterase re-activators, the pyridinium aldoximes, to achieve rapid CNS penetration and reactivation of AChE in the CNS (brain and spinal cord). Such reactivation is consistent with these non-canonical re-activators enhancing survival parameters in both mice and macaques following exposure to organophosphates. Thus, the ideal cholinesterase re-activator should show minimal toxicity, limited inhibitory activity in the absence of an organophosphate, and rapid CNS penetration, in addition to its nucleophilic potential at the target, the conjugated AChE active center. These are structural properties directed to reactivity profiles at the conjugated AChE active center, reinforced by the pharmacokinetic and tissue disposition properties of the re-activator leads. In the case of nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (nAChR) agonists and antagonists, with the many existing receptor subtypes in mammals, we prioritize subtype selectivity in their design. In contrast to nicotine and its analogues that react with panoply of AChR subtypes, the substituted di-2-picolyl amine pyrimidines possess distinctive ionization characteristics reflecting in selectivity for the orthosteric site at the α7 subtypes of receptor. Here, entry to the CNS should be prioritized for the therapeutic objectives of the nicotinic agent influencing aberrant CNS activity in development or in the sequence of CNS ageing (longevity) in mammals, along with general peripheral activities controlling inflammation.

Keywords: acetylcholinesterase reactivators (AChE reactivators); cholinergic neurotransmission; cholinesterase; nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs); pyridinium aldoximes; special issue “Cholinergic Mechanisms”.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Acetylcholinesterase / chemistry*
  • Acetylcholinesterase / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Cholinesterase Reactivators / chemistry*
  • Cholinesterase Reactivators / metabolism
  • Drug Design*
  • Humans
  • Ligands
  • Nicotinic Agonists / chemistry*
  • Nicotinic Agonists / metabolism
  • Nicotinic Antagonists / chemistry*
  • Nicotinic Antagonists / metabolism
  • Protein Structure, Secondary
  • Protein Structure, Tertiary
  • Receptors, Nicotinic / chemistry*
  • Receptors, Nicotinic / metabolism


  • Cholinesterase Reactivators
  • Ligands
  • Nicotinic Agonists
  • Nicotinic Antagonists
  • Receptors, Nicotinic
  • Acetylcholinesterase