Vaccine-driven pharmacodynamic dissection and mitigation of fenethylline psychoactivity

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Abstract

Fenethylline, also known by the trade name Captagon, is a synthetic psychoactive stimulant that has recently been linked to a substance-use disorder and ‘pharmacoterrorism’ in the Middle East1,2,3,4. Although fenethylline shares a common phenethylamine core with other amphetamine-type stimulants, it also incorporates a covalently linked xanthine moiety into its parent structure5,6. These independently active pharmacophores are liberated during metabolism, resulting in the release of a structurally diverse chemical mixture into the central nervous system7,8,9. Although the psychoactive properties of fenethylline have been reported to differ from those of other synthetic stimulants, thein vivochemical complexity it manifests upon ingestion has impeded efforts to unambiguously identify the specific species responsible for these effects10,11. Here we develop a ‘dissection through vaccination’ approach, called DISSECTIV, to mitigate the psychoactive effects of fenethylline and show that its rapid-onset and distinct psychoactive properties are facilitated by functional synergy between theophylline and amphetamine. Our results demonstrate that incremental vaccination against a single chemical species within a multi-component mixture can be used to uncover emergent properties arising from polypharmacological activity. We anticipate that DISSECTIV will be used to expose unidentified active chemical species and resolve pharmacodynamic interactions within other chemically complex systems, such as those found in counterfeit or illegal drug preparations, post-metabolic tissue samples and natural product extracts.

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