A Potent Inhibitor of Tryptophan Hydroxylase


  • Alan H. Stokes,

  • Yimei Xu,

  • James A. Daunais,

  • Hadassah Tamir,

  • Michael D. Gershon,

  • Paul Butkerait,

  • Bernd Kayser,

  • Janina Altman,

  • Wolfgang Beck,

  • Kent E. Vrana

  • Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc., Philadelphia

  • Drs. A. H. Stokes and Y. Xu contributed equally to this work. The present address of Dr. Y. Xu is Department of Neurobiology, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, NC 27710, U.S.A.

  • Abbreviations used: 5-HIAA, 5-hydroxyindole-3-acetic acid; 5-HT, serotonin; pCPA, p-chlorophenylalanine; pEPA, p-ethynylphenylalanine; TH, tyrosine hydroxylase; TPH, tryptophan hydroxylase.

Address correspondence and reprint requests to Dr. K. E. Vrana at Department of Physiology and Pharmacology, Wake Forest University School of Medicine, Winston-Salem, NC 27157-1083, U.S.A. E-mail: kvrana@wfubmc.edu


Abstract: Tryptophan hydroxylase (TPH) is the initial and rate-limiting enzyme in serotonin biosynthesis. The enzyme activity is dependent on molecular oxygen, a tetrahydropterin cosubstrate, and ferrous iron. The present study demonstrates that TPH is inhibited by a novel compound, p-ethynylphenylalanine (pEPA), produced by the Heck reaction of trimethylsilylacetylene with N-tert-butyloxycarbonyl-4-iodo-L-phenylalanine methyl ester. pEPA is a more potent and specific inhibitor of TPH than p-chlorophenylalanine (pCPA). In the present study, pEPA was demonstrated to inhibit competitively and reversibly TPH in vitro (Ki = 32.6 ± 6.2 μM vs. tryptophan). pEPA displayed little inhibitory activity toward tyrosine hydroxylase (EC, the initial and rate-limiting enzyme for catecholamine biosynthesis, and no inhibition of phenylalanine hydroxylase or tyrosinase. In addition, pEPA was a poor ligand for the serotonin transporter and several serotonin receptors. Administration of pEPA (30 mg/kg) to rats produced a 95 ± 5% decrease in TPH activity in brain homogenates and a concomitant decrease in serotonin and 5-hydroxyindole-3-acetic acid levels (85%) at 24 h after injection. In contrast, pCPA produced a similar effect (87 ± 5% decrease in TPH activity) only at 10 times the concentration (300 mg/kg). These results suggest that pEPA is a selective, reversible, and potent inhibitor of TPH both in vitro and in vivo. The potential for pEPA to inhibit selectively and reversibly the biosynthesis of serotonin may contribute to the characterization of the role of serotonin in behavioral and physiological activities.