Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

James M. Cook


Pure sciences; Benzodiazepine receptors; Gaba; Imidazobenzodiazepine; Memory; Pharmacophore proteins


Part I. New models of unified pharmacophore/receptors have been constructed guided by the synthesis of subtype selective compounds in light of recent developments both in ligand synthesis and structural studies of the binding site itself. The evaluation of experimental data in combination with comparative models of the α1β2γ2, α2β2γ2, α3β2γ2 and α5β2γ2 GABA(A) receptors has led to an orientation of the pharmacophore model within the benzodiazepine binding site (Bz BS). These results not only are important for the rational design of new selective ligands, but also for the identification and evaluation of possible roles which specific residues may have within the benzodiazepine binding pocket. More importantly, the process summarized here may be used as a general template to help scientists develop novel ligands for receptors for which the three dimensional structure has not yet been confirmed by X-ray crystallography or cryo-electron microscopy. Presented here are new models of the α1β2γ2, α2β2γ2, α3β2γ2 and α5β2γ2 GABA(A) receptors which have incorporated homology models built based on the acetylcholine binding protein. These new models will further our ability to understand structural characteristics of ligands which act as agonists, antagonists, or inverse agonists to the Bz BS of the GABA(A) receptor. This approach will also serve as a powerful model for structure based approaches carried out using ligand-protein docking methods.

Part II. An effective strategy to alleviate memory deficits would be to enhance memory and cognitive processes by augmenting the impact of acetylcholine released from cholinergic neurons of the hippocampus. Using the included volume pharmacophore presented in Part I, a number of a5 selective compounds were synthesized, notably PWZ-029. PWZ-029 was examined in rats in the passive and active avoidance, spontaneous locomotor activity, elevated plus maze and grip strength tests which are indicative of the effects on memory acquisition, locomotor activity, anxiety, and muscle tone. Improvement of task learning was shown at a dose of 5mg/kg in passive avoidance test without effect on anxiety or muscle tone. Moderate negative modulation at GABA(A) receptors containing the α5 subunit using a moderate inverse agonist such as PWZ-029, is a sufficient condition for eliciting enhanced encoding/consolidation of declarative memory. Using low temperature NMR and X-ray analysis, it was shown that enhanced selectivity and potent in vitro affinity of α5 selective benzodiazepine dimers was possible with aliphatic linkers of 3 to 5 carbons in length. Although originally proposed to enhance solubility, oxygen-containing linkers caused the dimer to fold back on itself leading to the inability of dimers to enter the binding pocket. In addition, studies of a series of PWZ-029 analogs found that the electrostatic potential near the ligands' terminal substituent correlated with its binding selectivity toward the α5β2γ2 versus α1β2γ2 Bzr/GABA(A) ergic isoform. Investigations further found that compound PWZ-029, which exhibits reasonable binding selectivity toward GABA(A) receptors containing the a5 subunit and possesses a favorable electrophysiological profile, was able to attenuate scopolamine induced contextual memory impairment in mice. This compound appears to be useful (Harris, Delorey et al.) for the treatment of cognitive deficits in rodents as well as primates (Rowlett et al.) and may well be a compound for the treatment of patients with Alzheimers disease.