2-Phenyl-imidazo[1,2-a]pyridine derivatives as ligands for peripheral benzodiazepine receptors: stimulation of neurosteroid synthesis and anticonflict action in rats


Department of Experimental Biology, Chair of Pharmacology, University of Cagliari, Via Palabanda 12, 09123, Cagliari, Italy. E-mail: mserra@vaxca1.unica.it


  • Selective activation of peripheral benzodiazepine receptors (PBRs) in adrenal cells and brain oligodendrocytes promotes steroidogenesis. Three 2-phenyl-imidazo[1,2-a]pyridine derivatives (CB 34, CB 50 and CB 54) have now been investigated with regard to their selectivity for PBRs and their ability to stimulate central and peripheral steroidogenesis in rats.

  • The three CB compounds (10−10–10−4 M) potently inhibited the binding of the PBR ligand [3H]-PK 11195 to brain and ovary membranes in vitro, without substantially affecting [3H]-flunitrazepam binding to central benzodiazepine receptors. These compounds (10−7–10−4 M) also had little or no marked effects on GABA-evoked Cl currents in voltage-clamped Xenopus oocytes expressing human α1β2γ2S GABAA receptors. In addition, they failed to affect ligands binding to GABAB, D1/D2 dopamine, muscarinic acetylcholine, N-methyl-D-aspartic acid and opiate receptors.

  • Intraperitoneal administration of CB compounds (3–50 mg kg−1) induced a dose-dependent increase in the concentrations of neuroactive steroids in plasma and brain. The brain concentrations of pregnenolone, progesterone, allopregnanolone and allotetrahydrodeoxycorticosterone (THDOC) showed maximal increases in 96±3, 126±14, 110±12 and 70±13% above control, respectively, 30 to 60 min after injection of CB 34 (25 mg kg−1). CB 34 also increased the brain concentrations of neuroactive steroids in adrenalectomized-orchiectomized rats, although to a lesser extent than in sham-operated animals, suggesting that CB compounds stimulate brain steroidogenesis independently of their effects on peripheral tissues.

  • The increase in brain and plasma neurosteroid content induced by CB 34 was associated with a marked anticonflict effect in the Vogel test. Our results indicate that the three CB compounds tested are specific and potent agonists at peripheral benzodiazepine receptors, and that they stimulate steroidogenesis in both the brain and periphery.

British Journal of Pharmacology (1999) 127, 177–187; doi:10.1038/sj.bjp.0702530