The place of partial agonism in psychiatry: recent developments.

Institute of Psychiatry, De Crespigny Park, London, UK.
Journal of Psychopharmacology (Impact Factor: 2.81). 08/2005; 19(4):408-13. DOI: 10.1177/0269881105053308
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT Drugs used to treat psychiatric disorders, although effective, are often restricted by adverse events. The use of partial agonists for treating hypertension was found to limit some of the side-effects in some patients. This led to the investigation of partial agonists as a treatment modality in psychiatric disorders. Partial agonists have a lower intrinsic efficacy than full agonists leading to reduced maximum response. They can act as antagonists by competing for receptor binding with full agonists. The level of activity depends on the level of endogenous receptor activity. Buprenorphine, a partial agonist at the mu-opioid receptor, is used to treat patients with addiction and decreases the symptoms of withdrawal and risks of overdose and intoxication. The anxiolytic buspirone shows partial agonism at 5-HT(1A) receptors, and this seems to provide anxioselective effects, without inducing extrapyramidal side-effects, convulsions, tolerance or withdrawal reactions. In schizophrenia, partial dopamine agonism results in antagonistic effects at sites activated by high concentrations of dopamine and agonistic effects at sites activated by low concentrations of dopamine. This stabilizes the dopamine system to effect antipsychotic action without inducing adverse motor or hormonal events. Aripiprazole is the first 'dopamine system stabilizer', and the data are promising, with efficacy at least equivalent to that with current atypical antipsychotics but fewer of the troublesome side-effects. Partial agonists seem to provide a way to fine-tune the treatment of psychiatric disorders by maximizing the treatment effect while minimizing undesirable adverse events.

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