Evidence for complex binding profiles and species differences at the translocator protein (TSPO) (18 kDa)

A. M. Scarf, C. Luus, E. da Pozzo, S. Selleri, C. Guarino, C. Martini, L. M. Ittner, M. Kassiou*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

18 Citations (Scopus)


The translocator protein (TSPO) (18 kDa) is an emerging drug target for the treatment of numerous pathologies including cancer and neurodegenerative disease. However, our limited knowledge of TSPO binding site(s) has hindered the development of TSPO ligands with potential therapeutic effects. We have synthesized a series of pyrrolobenzoxazepines (1-10) to better characterize the interaction of ligands with the TSPO across species, and to determine their functional profiles. All ligands 1-10 displaced the binding of [3H]PK 11195 to the TSPO at nanomolar concentrations, with discrepancies in binding affinity between rat and human TSPO. Interestingly, non-linear regression analysis revealed that some ligands bound to the protein with a Hill slope not equal to 1.0, suggesting possible additional TSPO binding sites with allosteric effects. However, this trend was not conserved between rat and human. When tested for their effects on pregnenolone production in rat C6 glioma cells, nitric oxide release in murine microglia, and cell proliferation in human MCF-7 breast cancer cells, the pyrrolobenzoxazepines (40 μM) displayed functional effects which did not correlate to the binding trend observed in competition assays. We propose that consideration of species differences and binding site cooperativity, plus optimization of currently accepted functional assays, will aid in the development of drugs targeting TSPO that can be used as therapeutics for human disease.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)488-493
Number of pages6
JournalCurrent Molecular Medicine
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Binding cooperativity
  • Neuroprotection
  • Pyrrolobenzoxazepines
  • Radioligand binding
  • Structure activity relationships
  • Translocator protein (TSPO)

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