Allergy-induced asthma may be prevented by a drug that acts on serotonin receptors, according to work from Louisiana State University Health New Orleans. Researchers at LSU showed that (R)-DOI, a “psychedelic” drug that activates serotonin receptors, prevents allergy-induced asthma in mice by acting as an inflammatory agent. Inhaling (R)-DOI may be a viable treatment for asthma in the future, but studies beyond this initial work are required before clinical trials can test this hypothesis, as serotonin agonists are only approved for certain psychological conditions.
“These drugs are known only for their effects in the brain,” said Charles Nichols, PhD, principal investigator of the study “Serotonin 5-HT2 Receptor Activation Prevents Allergic Asthma in a Mouse Model,” published in American Journal of Physiology, Lung Cellular and Molecular Physiology. “What we have demonstrated for the first time is that they are also effective in treating physiological diseases outside of the brain, a completely new and exciting role for this class of drug,” he said in a news release from LSU.
A main reason why (R)-DOI works to combat allergy-induced asthma is its anti-inflammatory activity. Dr. Nichols previously showed that activating serotonin receptor 5-HT2A attenuates inflammation in the blood vessels and gut. He thought that administering (R)-DOI could be beneficial to inflammatory asthma.
After administering (R)-DOI to mice via inhalation, the team looked at pulmonary inflammation, mucus production, and airway hyper-responsiveness. All three were reduced after treatment. The team further looked at genes expressed by treated mice and found a reduction in genes vital to the immune response in the lungs.
The impacts of this study are great, according to Dr. Nichols. “Not only is this a significant breakthrough in the field of study of serotonin and psychiatric drugs, but it is a breakthrough in the field of asthma as well,” he said. “We have identified an entirely new anti-inflammatory mechanism for the treatment of asthma in the clinic that could someday be administered in an inhaler or a daily pill.”
These new treatments would be different from current bronchodilators because bronchodilators act to increase the size of blocked airways, allowing easier breathing. Anti-inflammatory glucocorticoids are prescribed to treat asthma, but some patients do not respond to treatment, so another course of action is necessary. Perhaps one that may at first seem out-of-the-box for treating asthma will be the next alternative.
“Overall, given the recent interest and success using these drugs for psychiatric therapies in the clinic, our research at LSU Health New Orleans is the first to show that they have potential to heal the body as well as the mind,” explained Dr. Nichols. As serotonin receptor agonists are already used in the clinic to treat psychological conditions, translation to asthma may be fairly efficient.