Scientists have used virtual reality to demonstrate how a psychedelic compound binds itself to a serotonin receptor. Psychedelics are known to target serotonin receptors, in particular the 5-HT2A receptor.
5-HT2A serotonin receptors are normally found along the central nervous system, particularly in regions of the brain essential for cognition and learning. Several antipsychotics, hallucinogens and antidepressants function by targeting serotonin receptors. Abnormal serotonin receptor activity has been linked to a range of psychiatric conditions and disorders, including schizophrenia, depression and drug addiction.
Despite all this knowledge, not much was known about how psychedelic molecules bind themselves to the receptor’s structure or even what a serotonin receptor looks like, until now. Professor Asher Brandt of Saint Joseph University discussed the study that was recently published, which focused on how single nucleotide polymorphisms could change the pharmacological signaling of psychedelics. Single nucleotide polymorphisms are common types of genetic variations that occur in many individuals.
The researchers’ objective was to look into whether sequence variations in the 5-HT2A receptor gene affected signaling of some of the commonly used psychedelic substances, which included psilocybin, mescaline and LSD. The study used a 5-HT2A virtual reality simulation to show how these mutations could impact how psychedelics bound to receptors and affect the potency of therapeutically relevant psychedelics. The researchers generated the 5-HT2A receptor in a virtual reality workspace then used augmented reality methods to control the receptor in real time in order to demonstrate how different mutations could impact receptor binding at the molecular level.
They also assessed the in vitro pharmacology of 7 nonsynonymous single nucleotide polymorphisms that produce variants of 5-HT2A serotonin receptors. The polymorphisms in question are Thr25Asn, Ser12Asn, Ile197Val, Asp48Asn, Ala447Val, His452Tyr and Ala230Thr variant 5-HT2A serotonin receptors. This led to the discovery that nonsynonymous polymorphisms exerted statistically substantial effects on the potency as well as the effectiveness of four potentially therapeutic psychedelics.
This study is an addition to the growing body of evidence which shows that psychedelic drugs have varying effects and potency on individuals, depending on one’s genetic profile. This discovery has led to the development of genetic testing kits that can let researchers know exactly what an individual’s receptor profile looks like as well as forecast the way one may react to treatment using psychedelics.
The study results were published in “ACS Publications.” Other researchers involved include Bryan L. Roth, Samuel T. Slocum, Manish K. Jain and Gavin P. Schmitz.
As more research comes out from companies such as Field Trip Health Ltd. (OTC: FTHWF) (TSX: FTHW), it will be easier to gain a deeper understanding about the mechanisms through which psychedelics exert the influence that they have on various neural processes behind some of the most hard-to-treat mental health conditions.
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