Psychotogenicity and N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor antagonism: implications for neuroprotective pharmacotherapy

Biol Psychiatry. 1997 Jan 15;41(2):135-44. doi: 10.1016/S0006-3223(96)00047-9.


The development of neuroprotective agents for the prevention of neuronal loss in acute conditions such as stroke and epilepsy or chronic neurodegenerative disorders including Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, Huntington's chorea, and motor neuron disease is currently focusing on drugs that inhibit excitatory amino acid neurotransmission or exhibit antioxidant properties. Unfortunately, potent antagonists at the N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) type glutamate receptor, which is thought to mediate excitotoxic neuronal injury, e.g., MK-801 or phencyclidine (PCP), share a high probability of inducing psychotomimetic side effects. Further, these drugs have been associated with acute neurotoxicity in vitro and in vivo, precluding their clinical use. In contrast, low affinity NMDA receptor antagonists like amantadine and its dimethyl derivative, memantine, have been administered clinically for the management of Parkinson's disease, dementia, neuroleptic drug-induced side effects, and spasticity. These agents have only rarely induced significant psychotomimetic side effects. Recent pharmacologic advances have helped to elucidate how high drug affinity for the PCP binding site of the NMDA receptor may enhance psychotogenicity. Low affinity and associated fast voltage-dependent channel unblocking kinetics are likely to be responsible for the better tolerance of amantadine and memantine compared with MK-801 and PCP. Further factors apparently modulating psychotogenicity of glutamate receptor antagonists include differential actions on neuronal populations in various brain regions and interactions with neurotransmitter receptors other than the NMDA type glutamate receptor.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Alzheimer Disease / physiopathology
  • Alzheimer Disease / prevention & control
  • Antioxidants / therapeutic use
  • Brain / drug effects
  • Brain / physiopathology
  • Dementia / physiopathology
  • Dementia / prevention & control
  • Excitatory Amino Acid Antagonists / therapeutic use
  • Humans
  • Neurocognitive Disorders / physiopathology*
  • Neurocognitive Disorders / prevention & control
  • Neuroprotective Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Parkinson Disease / physiopathology
  • Parkinson Disease / prevention & control
  • Receptors, N-Methyl-D-Aspartate / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Receptors, N-Methyl-D-Aspartate / physiology


  • Antioxidants
  • Excitatory Amino Acid Antagonists
  • Neuroprotective Agents
  • Receptors, N-Methyl-D-Aspartate