Receptor screening technologies in the evaluation of Amazonian ethnomedicines with potential applications to cognitive deficits

Dennis J. McKenna, Juan M. Ruiz, Thomas R. Hoye, Bryan L. Roth, Alan T. Shoemaker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Ethnopharmacological relevance: Amazonian peoples utilize a variety of psychoactive plants that may contain novel biologically active compounds. Efforts to investigate such remedies in terms of neuropharmacology have been limited. Aim of this study: This study identified Amazonian ethnomedicines with potential for the treatment of cognitive deficits in schizophrenia and dementias, and characterized their interactions with CNS neurotransmitter receptors in vitro. Materials and methods: Approximately 300 Amazonian species with folk uses or constituents indicative of central nervous system activity were incorporated into a database constructed from literature searches, herbarium surveys, and interviews with traditional practitioners. Approximately 130 of these targeted species were collected in Loreto province, Peru, and 228 fractions derived from them were screened in 31 radioreceptor assays via the resources of the NIMH Psychoactive Drug Screening Program. A subset was also screened in functional assays at selected serotonin, muscarinic, and adrenergic receptors. Results: Ninety-one samples displayed ≥60% inhibition of radioligand binding activity in receptor assays; 135 samples displayed agonist or antagonist activity (or both) in functional assays. Conclusions: Potential CNS activity was detected in about 40% of the samples screened, with some correlations to both folk uses and phytochemical constituents. These results may point to novel and potentially therapeutic CNS active compounds.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)475-492
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Ethnopharmacology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 24 2011

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported under Grant # 04T-505 from the Stanley Medical Research Institute and the NIMH Psychoactive Drug Screening Program , Contract # NO1MH32004 (NIMH PDSP).


  • Cognitive disorders
  • Dementia
  • Drug prospecting
  • Ethnomedicine
  • Ethnopharmacology
  • Mental disorders
  • Radioligand assay
  • Schizophrenia


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