Identification of an allosteric modulator of the serotonin transporter with novel mechanism of action

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Serotonin transporters (SERTs) play an essential role in the termination and regulation of serotonin signaling in the brain. SERT is also the target of antidepressants and psychostimulants. Molecules with novel activities and modes of interaction with regard to SERT function are of great scientific and clinical interest. We explored structural regions outside the putative serotonin translocation pathway to identify potential binding sites for allosteric transporter modulators (ATMs). Mutational studies revealed a pocket of amino acids outside the orthosteric substrate binding sites located in the interface between extracellular loops 1 and 3 that when mutated affect transporter function. Using the structure of the bacterial transporter homolog leucine transporter as a template, we developed a structural model of SERT. We performed molecular dynamics simulations to further characterize the allosteric pocket that was identified by site-directed mutagenesis studies and employed this pocket in a virtual screen for small-molecule modulators of SERT function. In functional transport assays, we found that one of the identified molecules, ATM7, increased the reuptake of serotonin, possibly by facilitating the interaction of serotonin with transport-ready conformations of SERT when concentrations of serotonin were low and rate limiting. In addition, ATM7 potentiates 3,4-methylenedioxy-N-methylamphetamine (MDMA, “Ecstasy”)-induced reversed transport by SERT. Taking advantage of a conformationally sensitive residue in transmembrane domain 6, we demonstrate that ATM7 mechanistically stabilizes an outward-facing conformation of SERT. Taken together these observations demonstrate that ATM7 acts through a novel mechanism that involves allosteric modulation of SERT function.

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