Hallucinogens mediate many of their psychoactive effects by activating serotonin 2A receptors (5-HT2AR). Although serotonin is the cognate endogenous neurotransmitter and is not considered hallucinogenic, metabolites of serotonin also have high affinity at 5-HT2AR and can induce hallucinations in humans. Here we report that serotonin differs from the psychoactiveN-methyltryptamines by its ability to engage a β-arrestin2-mediated signaling cascade in the frontal cortex. Serotonin and 5-hydroxy-L-tryptophan (5-HTP) induce a head-twitch response in wild-type (WT) mice that is a behavioral proxy for 5-HT2AR activation. The response in β-arrestin2 knock-out (βarr2-KO) mice is greatly attenuated until the doses are elevated, at which point, βarr2-KO mice display a head-twitch response that can exceed that of WT mice. Direct administration of N-methyltryptamines also produces a greater response in βarr2-KO mice. Moreover, the inhibition of N-methyltransferase blocks 5-HTP-induced head twitches in βarr2-KO mice, indicating that N-methyltryptamines, rather than serotonin, primarily mediate this response. Biochemical studies demonstrate that serotonin stimulates Akt phosphorylation in the frontal cortex and in primary cortical neurons through the activation of a β-arrestin2/phosphoinositide 3-kinase/Src/Akt cascade, whereas N-methyltryptamines do not. Furthermore, disruption of any of the components of this cascade prevents 5-HTP-induced, but not N-methyltryptamine-induced, head twitches. We propose that there is a bifurcation of 5-HT2AR signaling that is neurotransmitter and β-arrestin2 dependent. This demonstration of agonist-directed 5-HT2AR signaling in vivo may significantly impact drug discovery efforts for the treatment of disorders wherein hallucinations are part of the etiology, such as schizophrenia, or manifest as side effects of treatment, such as depression.
Schmid, C. L., & Bohn, L. M. (2010). Serotonin, But Not N-Methyltryptamines, Activates the Serotonin 2A Receptor Via a β-Arrestin2/Src/Akt Signaling Complex In Vivo. The Journal of Neuroscience, 30(40), 13513-13524. http://dx.doi.org/10.1523/JNEUROSCI.1665-10.2010