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Neuropsychopharmacology. 2010 Feb;35(3):806-17. doi: 10.1038/npp.2009.189. Epub 2009 Dec 2.

Impact of D2 receptor internalization on binding affinity of neuroimaging radiotracers.

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  • 1Department of Psychiatry, Columbia University, New York, NY10032, USA.


Synaptic dopamine (DA) levels seem to affect the in vivo binding of many D2 receptor radioligands. Thus, release of endogenous DA induced by the administration of amphetamine decreases ligand binding, whereas DA depletion increases binding. This is generally thought to be due to competition between endogenous DA and the radioligands for D2 receptors. However, the temporal discrepancy between amphetamine-induced increases in DA as measured by microdialysis, which last on the order of 2 h, and the prolonged decrease in ligand binding, which lasts up to a day, has suggested that agonist-induced D2 receptor internalization may contribute to the sustained decrease in D2 receptor-binding potential seen following a DA surge. To test this hypothesis, we developed an in vitro system showing robust agonist-induced D2 receptor internalization following treatment with the agonist quinpirole. Human embryonic kidney 293 (HEK293) cells were stably co-transfected with human D2 receptor, G-protein-coupled receptor kinase 2 and arrestin 3. Agonist-induced D2 receptor internalization was demonstrated by fluorescence microscopy, flow cytometry, and radioligand competition binding. The binding of seven D2 antagonists and four agonists to the surface and internalized receptors was measured in intact cells. All the imaging ligands bound with high affinity to both surface and internalized D2 receptors. Affinity of most of the ligands to internalized receptors was modestly lower, indicating that internalization would reduce the binding potential measured in imaging studies carried out with these ligands. However, between-ligand differences in the magnitude of the internalization-associated affinity shift only partly accounted for the data obtained in neuroimaging experiments, suggesting the involvement of mechanisms beyond competition and internalization.

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