Psychedelic-inspired drug discovery using an engineered biosensor

Cell. 2021 May 13;184(10):2779-2792.e18. doi: 10.1016/j.cell.2021.03.043. Epub 2021 Apr 28.

Abstract

Ligands can induce G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs) to adopt a myriad of conformations, many of which play critical roles in determining the activation of specific signaling cascades associated with distinct functional and behavioral consequences. For example, the 5-hydroxytryptamine 2A receptor (5-HT2AR) is the target of classic hallucinogens, atypical antipsychotics, and psychoplastogens. However, currently available methods are inadequate for directly assessing 5-HT2AR conformation both in vitro and in vivo. Here, we developed psychLight, a genetically encoded fluorescent sensor based on the 5-HT2AR structure. PsychLight detects behaviorally relevant serotonin release and correctly predicts the hallucinogenic behavioral effects of structurally similar 5-HT2AR ligands. We further used psychLight to identify a non-hallucinogenic psychedelic analog, which produced rapid-onset and long-lasting antidepressant-like effects after a single administration. The advent of psychLight will enable in vivo detection of serotonin dynamics, early identification of designer drugs of abuse, and the development of 5-HT2AR-dependent non-hallucinogenic therapeutics.

Keywords: depression; genetically encoded indicators; hallucinogen; psychedelic; serotonin; serotonin receptors.