The Pharmacology of the Sigma-1 Receptor

  • James Brimson

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


The sigma-1 receptor, although originally classified as an opioid receptor is now thought of as distinct receptor class, sharing no homology with any other known mammalian protein. The receptor has been implicated with a number of diseases including cancer and depression. Modulation of the receptors activity with agonists has potential antidepressant activity whereas antagonists lead to death of cancer cells.

Using radioligand binding assays, utilizing the cancer cell line MDA-MB-468, which highly expresses the sigma-1 receptor, a series of novel specific, high affinity, sigma-1 receptor ligands have been characterised. These ligands differed from any previous sigma-1 receptor ligand in that they are very simple ammonium salts, containing a single nitrogen atom and either straight or branched carbon chains. The binding studies revealed that the straight-chain ammonium salts gave nH values of 1 whereas the branched-chain ammonium salts had statistically significant lower nH values.

The ammonium salts were tested for sigma-1 receptor activity in vitro using ratiometric Fura-2 calcium assays and the MTS cell proliferation assay. Branched-chain ammonium salts appeared to have sigma-1 receptor antagonist like effects on cytoplasmic calcium and cell proliferation, whereas the straight-chain ammonium salts behaved as sigma-1 receptor agonists. Three ammonium salts stood out as potential effective sigma-1 receptor drugs, the straight-chain ammonium salt dipentylammonium, and two branched-chain ammonium salts, bis(2-ethylhexyl)ammonium and triisopentylammonium. The ammonium salts were then tested in vivo, dipentylammonium showed significant antidepressant properties when tested in behavioural models for depression and bis(2-ethylhexyl)ammonium and triisopentylammonium were able to significantly inhibit the growth of tumours implanted in mice.

Finally I looked at the coupling of the sigma-1 receptor with G-proteins and show that sigma-1 receptor antagonists dose dependently reduce G-protein activity and inhibition of G-proteins enhanced the sigma-1 antagonists’ effects of calcium signalling.
Date of Award1 Apr 2010
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorMelanie Welham (Supervisor) & Stephen Safrany (Supervisor)


  • radio ligand binding
  • Sigma-1 receptor
  • depression
  • cancer
  • calcium ASSAY

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