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ACS Chem Neurosci. 2018 May 16;9(5):925-934. doi: 10.1021/acschemneuro.7b00320. Epub 2018 Feb 2.

Toward Serotonin Fluorescent False Neurotransmitters: Development of Fluorescent Dual Serotonin and Vesicular Monoamine Transporter Substrates for Visualizing Serotonin Neurons.

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Department of Chemistry and Neuro Technology Center at Columbia University , New York , New York 10027 , United States.
Department of Psychiatry , Columbia University , New York , New York 10032 , United States.
Department of Neurology , Columbia University , New York , New York 10032 , United States.
Department of Pharmacology , Columbia University , New York , New York 10032 , United States.


Ongoing efforts in our laboratories focus on design of optical reporters known as fluorescent false neurotransmitters (FFNs) that enable the visualization of uptake into, packaging within, and release from individual monoaminergic neurons and presynaptic sites in the brain. Here, we introduce the molecular probe FFN246 as an expansion of the FFN platform to the serotonergic system. Combining the acridone fluorophore with the ethylamine recognition element of serotonin, we identified FFN54 and FFN246 as substrates for both the serotonin transporter and the vesicular monoamine transporter 2 (VMAT2). A systematic structure-activity study revealed the basic structural chemotype of aminoalkyl acridones required for serotonin transporter (SERT) activity and enabled lowering the background labeling of these probes while maintaining SERT activity, which proved essential for obtaining sufficient signal in the brain tissue (FFN246). We demonstrate the utility of FFN246 for direct examination of SERT activity and SERT inhibitors in 96-well cell culture assays, as well as specific labeling of serotonergic neurons of the dorsal raphe nucleus in the living tissue of acute mouse brain slices. While we found only minor FFN246 accumulation in serotonergic axons in murine brain tissue, FFN246 effectively traces serotonin uptake and packaging in the soma of serotonergic neurons with improved photophysical properties and loading parameters compared to known serotonin-based fluorescent tracers.


5-HT; FFN246; fluorescent false neurotransmitters; imaging probe; monoaminergic neurons; serotonin

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