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Papers of the Week

Papers: 8 Apr 2023 - 14 Apr 2023


Pharmacology/Drug Development


2023 Apr 07

Mol Psychiatry


Scientific rationale for the use of α2A-adrenoceptor agonists in treating neuroinflammatory cognitive disorders.


Arnsten AFT, Ishizawa Y, Xie Z


Neuroinflammatory disorders preferentially impair the higher cognitive and executive functions of the prefrontal cortex (PFC). This includes such challenging disorders as delirium, perioperative neurocognitive disorder, and the sustained cognitive deficits from “long-COVID” or traumatic brain injury. There are no FDA-approved treatments for these symptoms; thus, understanding their etiology is important for generating therapeutic strategies. The current review describes the molecular rationale for why PFC circuits are especially vulnerable to inflammation, and how α2A-adrenoceptor (α2A-AR) actions throughout the nervous and immune systems can benefit the circuits in PFC needed for higher cognition. The layer III circuits in the dorsolateral PFC (dlPFC) that generate and sustain the mental representations needed for higher cognition have unusual neurotransmission and neuromodulation. They are wholly dependent on NMDAR neurotransmission, with little AMPAR contribution, and thus are especially vulnerable to kynurenic acid inflammatory signaling which blocks NMDAR. Layer III dlPFC spines also have unusual neuromodulation, with cAMP magnification of calcium signaling in spines, which opens nearby potassium channels to rapidly weaken connectivity and reduce neuronal firing. This process must be tightly regulated, e.g. by mGluR3 or α2A-AR on spines, to prevent loss of firing. However, the production of GCPII inflammatory signaling reduces mGluR3 actions and markedly diminishes dlPFC network firing. Both basic and clinical studies show that α2A-AR agonists such as guanfacine can restore dlPFC network firing and cognitive function, through direct actions in the dlPFC, but also by reducing the activity of stress-related circuits, e.g. in the locus coeruleus and amygdala, and by having anti-inflammatory actions in the immune system. This information is particularly timely, as guanfacine is currently the focus of large clinical trials for the treatment of delirium, and in open label studies for the treatment of cognitive deficits from long-COVID.