A Clickable Analogue of Ketamine Retains NMDA Receptor Activity, Psychoactivity, and Accumulates in Neurons

Christine Emnett, Hairong Li, Xiaoping Jiang, Ann Benz, Joseph Boggiano, Sara Conyers, David F. Wozniak, Charles F. Zorumski, David E. Reichert, Steven Mennerick

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12 Scopus citations


Ketamine is a psychotomimetic and antidepressant drug. Although antagonism of cell-surface NMDA receptors (NMDARs) may trigger ketamine's psychoactive effects, ketamine or its major metabolite norketamine could act intracellularly to produce some behavioral effects. To explore the viability of this latter hypothesis, we examined intracellular accumulation of novel visualizable analogues of ketamine/norketamine. We introduced an alkyne "click" handle into norketamine (alkyne-norketamine, A-NK) at the key nitrogen atom. Ketamine, norketamine, and A-NK, but not A-NK-amide, showed acute and persisting psychoactive effects in mice. This psychoactivity profile paralleled activity of the compounds as NMDAR channel blockers; A-NK-amide was inactive at NMDARs, and norketamine and A-NK were active but ∼4-fold less potent than ketamine. We incubated rat hippocampal cells with 10 μM A-NK or A-NK-amide then performed Cu 2+ catalyzed cycloaddition of azide-Alexa Fluor 488, which covalently attaches the fluorophore to the alkyne moiety in the compounds. Fluorescent imaging revealed intracellular localization of A-NK but weak A-NK-amide labeling. Accumulation was not dependent on membrane potential, NMDAR expression, or NMDAR activity. Overall, the approach revealed a correlation among NMDAR activity, intracellular accumulation/retention, and behavioral effects. Thus, we advance first generation chemical biology tools to aid in the identification of ketamine targets.

Original languageEnglish
Article number38808
JournalScientific reports
StatePublished - Dec 16 2016


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