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Drosophila modifier screens to identify novel neuropsychiatric drugs including aminergic agents for the possible treatment of Parkinson's disease and depression.


Small molecules that increase the presynaptic function of aminergic cells may provide neuroprotection in Parkinson's disease (PD) as well as treatments for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and depression. Model genetic organisms such as Drosophila melanogaster may enhance the detection of new drugs via modifier or 'enhancer/suppressor' screens, but this technique has not been applied to processes relevant to psychiatry. To identify new aminergic drugs in vivo, we used a mutation in the Drosophila vesicular monoamine transporter (dVMAT) as a sensitized genetic background and performed a suppressor screen. We fed dVMAT mutant larvae ∼ 1000 known drugs and quantitated rescue (suppression) of an amine-dependent locomotor deficit in the larva. To determine which drugs might specifically potentiate neurotransmitter release, we performed an additional secondary screen for drugs that require presynaptic amine storage to rescue larval locomotion. Using additional larval locomotion and adult fertility assays, we validated that at least one compound previously used clinically as an antineoplastic agent potentiates the presynaptic function of aminergic circuits. We suggest that structurally similar agents might be used to development treatments for PD, depression and ADHD, and that modifier screens in Drosophila provide a new strategy to screen for neuropsychiatric drugs. More generally, our findings demonstrate the power of physiologically based screens for identifying bioactive agents for select neurotransmitter systems.

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