In Silico and In Vitro Investigation into the Next Generation of New Psychoactive Substances
Botha, Michelle Jennifer
New Psychoactive Substances (NPS) were designed to be legal alternatives to existing established recreational drugs. They have fast become a very popular and up until 2016, NPS were legal, cheap and freely accessible via the internet and high street “head shops”. The rapid expansion in the number of these drugs has reached epidemic proportions, whereby hundreds of NPS have been developed and sold within the last five-year period. As NPS are synthesized in clandestine laboratories there is little to no control in the manufacture, dosage and packaging of these drugs. The public health risks posed by these drugs are therefore far-reaching. Fatalities and severe adverse reactions associated with these compounds have become an ongoing challenge to healthcare services, primarily because these drugs have not previously been abused and therefore there is little pharmacological information available regarding NPS. There are a number of different biological receptors that are implicated in the effects of NPS and the mechanism of action for the majority of these drugs is still largely unknown. It is of great importance to try and establish an understanding of how various classes of NPS interact on a molecular level. In this thesis, structure-based and ligand-based in Silico methodologies were employed to gain a better understanding of how NPS may interact with monoamine transporters (MAT). Key findings included both molecular docking studies and a number of robust and predictive QSAR models for the dopamine and serotonin transporters provided insight into how promiscuity of NPS between the different MAT isoforms could arise. In addition, pharmacophore models were generated to identify chemical entities that were structurally dissimilar to known existing NPS that had the potential to interact with the cannabinoid 1 receptor (CB1) and hence were hypothesised could elicit similar biological responses to known potent synthetic cannabinoids. Thirteen of these compounds were identified and carried forward for in vitro and ex vivo analyses, where preliminary results have shown that two compounds activate the CB1 receptor. Further optimisation of these compounds could yield a novel SC scaffold that was previously unseen. Additionally, the compounds identified and the methodology employed in the generation of these new chemical scaffolds could be used to guide Early Warning Systems (EWS) and facilitate law enforcement with respect to emergent NPS.
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