Extracellular nucleosides and nucleotides have widespread functions in responding to physiological stress. The “purinome” encompasses four G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs) for adenosine, eight GPCRs activated by nucleotides (P2YRs), seven adenosine 5′-triphosphate(ATP)-gated P2X ion channels, as well as the associated enzymes and transporters that regulate native agonist levels. Purinergic signaling modulators, such as receptor agonists and antagonists, have potential for treating chronic pain. Adenosine and its analogues potently suppress nociception in preclinical models by activating A1 and/or A3 adenosine receptors(ARs), but safely harnessing this pathway to clinically treat pain has not been achieved. Both A2AAR agonists and antagonists are efficacious in pain models. Highly selective A3AR agonists offer a novel approach to treat chronic pain. We have explored the structure activity relationship of nucleoside derivatives at this subtype using a computational structure-based approach. Novel A3AR agonists for pain control containing a bicyclic ring system (bicyclo[3.1.0]hexane) in place of ribose were designed and screened using an in vivo phenotypic model, which reflected both pharmacokinetic and pharmacodynamic parameters. High specificity (>10,000-fold selective for A3AR) was achieved with the aid of receptor homology models based on related GPCR structures. These A3AR agonists are well tolerated in vivo and highly efficacious in models of chronic neuropathic pain. Furthermore, signaling molecules acting at P2X3, P2X4, P2X7 and P2Y12Rs play critical roles in maladaptive pain neuroplasticity, and their antagonists reduce chronic or inflammatory pain, and, therefore, purine receptor modulation is a promising approach for future pain therapeutics. Structurally novel antagonists for these nucleotide receptors were discovered recently.
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