Imaging the brain marijuana receptor: development of a radioligand that binds to cannabinoid CB1 receptors in vivo

J Neurochem. 1998 Jan;70(1):417-23. doi: 10.1046/j.1471-4159.1998.70010417.x.


The major active ingredient of marijuana, (-)-delta9-tetrahydrocannabinol, exerts its psychoactive effects via binding to cannabinoid CB1 receptors, which are widely distributed in the brain. Radionuclide imaging of CB1 receptors in living human subjects would help explore the presently unknown physiological roles of this receptor system, as well as the neurochemical consequences of marijuana dependence. Currently available cannabinoid receptor radioligands are exceedingly lipophilic and unsuitable for in vivo use. We report the development of a novel radioligand, [123I]AM281[N-(morpholin-4-yl)-5-(4-[123I]iodophenyl)-1-(2,4 -dichlorophenyl)-4-methyl-1H-pyrazole-3-carboxamide], that is structurally related to the CB1-selective antagonist SR141716A [N-(piperidin-1-yl)-5-(4-chlorophenyl)-1-(2,4-dichlorophenyl)-4-me thyl-1H-pyrazole-3-carboxamide]. Baboon single photon emission computed tomography studies, mouse brain dissection studies, and ex vivo autoradiography in rat brain demonstrated rapid passage of [123I]AM281 into the brain after intravenous injection, appropriate regional brain specificity of binding, and reduction of binding after treatment with SR141716A. AM281 has an affinity in the low nanomolar range for cerebellar binding sites labeled with [3H]SR141716A in vitro, and binding of [123I]AM281 is inhibited by several structurally distinct cannabinoid receptor ligands. We conclude that [123I]AM281 has appropriate properties for in vivo studies of cannabinoid CB1 receptors and is suitable for imaging these receptors in the living human brain.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Autoradiography
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging*
  • Brain / metabolism*
  • Ligands
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Morpholines*
  • Osmolar Concentration
  • Papio
  • Pyrazoles*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Receptors, Cannabinoid
  • Receptors, Drug / metabolism*
  • Tissue Distribution
  • Tomography, Emission-Computed, Single-Photon*


  • Ligands
  • Morpholines
  • Pyrazoles
  • Receptors, Cannabinoid
  • Receptors, Drug
  • AM 281