Characterization of CRF1 receptor antagonists with differential peripheral vs central actions in CRF challenge in rats

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The aim of this study was to investigate peripheral and central roles of corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF) in endocrinological and behavioral changes. Plasma adrenocorticotropin (ACTH) concentration was measured as an activity of hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. As behavioral changes, locomotion and anxiety behavior were measured after CRF challenge intravenously (i.v.) for the peripheral administration or intracerebroventricularly (i.c.v.) for the central administration. Plasma ACTH concentration was significantly increased by both administration routes of CRF; however, hyperlocomotion and anxiety behavior were induced only by the i.c.v. administration. In the drug discovery of CRF1 receptor antagonists, we identified two types of compounds, Compound A and Compound B, which antagonized peripheral CRF-induced HPA axis activation to the same extent, but showed different effects on the central CRF signal. These had similar in vitro CRF1 receptor binding affinities (15 and 10 nM) and functional activities in reporter gene assay (15 and 9.5 nM). In the ex vivo binding assays using tissues of the pituitary, oral treatment with Compound A and Compound B at 10 mg/kg inhibited [125I]-CRF binding, whereas in the assay using tissues of the frontal cortex, treatment of Compound A but not Compound B inhibited [125I]-CRF binding, indicating that only Compound A inhibited central [125I]-CRF binding. In the peripheral CRF challenge, increase in plasma ACTH concentration was significantly suppressed by both Compound A and Compound B. In contrast, Compound A inhibited the increase in locomotion induced by the central CRF challenge while Compound B did not. Compound A also reduced central CRF challenge-induced anxiety behavior and c-fos immunoreactivity in the cortex and the hypothalamic paraventricular nucleus. These results indicate that the central CRF signal, rather than the peripheral CRF signal would be related to anxiety and other behavioral changes, and CRF1 receptor antagonism in the central nervous system may be critical for identifying drug candidates for anxiety and mood disorders.

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