Positive modulators of NMDA receptors are important candidates for therapeutic development to treat psychiatric disorders including autism and schizophrenia. Sulfated neurosteroids have been studied as positive allosteric modulators of NMDA receptors for years, but we understand little about the cellular fate of these compounds, an important consideration for drug development. Here we focus on a visualizable sulfated neurosteroid analogue, KK-169. As expected of a pregnenolone sulfate analogue, the compound strongly potentiates NMDA receptor function, is an antagonist of GABA A receptors, exhibits occlusion with pregnenolone sulfate potentiation, and requires receptor domains important for pregnenolone sulfate potentiation. KK-169 exhibits somewhat higher potency than the natural parent, pregnenolone sulfate. The analogue contains a side-chain alkyne group, which we exploited for retrospective click labeling of neurons. Although the anionic sulfate group is expected to hinder cell entry, we detected significant accumulation of KK-169 in neurons with even brief incubations. Adding a photolabile diazirine group revealed that the expected plasma membrane localization of KK-169 is likely lost during fixation. Overall, our studies reveal new facets of the structure-activity relationship of neurosteroids at NMDA receptors, and their intracellular distribution suggests that sulfated neurosteroids could have unappreciated targets in addition to plasma membrane receptors.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)91-103
Number of pages13
StatePublished - Jan 2019


  • Click chemistry
  • GABA
  • Glutamate
  • NMDA
  • Photolabeling
  • Pregnenolone sulfate


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