Neuropharmacology of Synthetic Cathinones.Handb Exp Pharmacol. 2018; 252:113-142.HE
Synthetic cathinones are derivatives of the naturally occurring compound cathinone, the main psychoactive ingredient in the khat plant Catha edulis. Cathinone is the β-keto analog of amphetamine, and all synthetic cathinones display a β-keto moiety in their structure. Several synthetic cathinones are widely prescribed medications (e.g., bupropion, Wellbutrin®), while others are problematic drugs of abuse (e.g., 4-methylmethcathinone, mephedrone). Similar to amphetamines, synthetic cathinones are psychomotor stimulants that exert their effects by impairing the normal function of plasma membrane transporters for dopamine (DAT), norepinephrine (NET), and 5-HT (SERT). Ring-substituted cathinones like mephedrone are transporter substrates that evoke neurotransmitter release by reversing the normal direction of transporter flux (i.e., releasers), whereas pyrrolidine-containing cathinones like 3,4-methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV) are potent transporter inhibitors that block neurotransmitter uptake (i.e., blockers). Regardless of molecular mechanism, all synthetic cathinones increase extracellular monoamine concentrations in the brain, thereby enhancing cell-to-cell monoamine signaling. Here, we briefly review the mechanisms of action, structure-activity relationships, and in vivo pharmacology of synthetic cathinones. Overall, the findings show that certain synthetic cathinones are powerful drugs of abuse that could pose significant risk to users.