The neurotrophin brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) and its receptor tropomyosin-related kinase B (TrkB) have emerged as key mediators in the pathophysiology of several mood disorders, including anxiety and depression. However, therapeutic compounds that interact with TrkB receptors have been difficult to develop. Using a combination of structure-based in silico screening and high-capacity functional assays in recombinant and neuronal cells, we identified a low–molecular weight TrkB ligand (ANA-12) that prevented activation of the receptor by BDNF with a high potency. ANA-12 showed direct and selective binding to TrkB and inhibited processes downstream of TrkB without altering TrkA and TrkC functions. KIRA-ELISA analysis demonstrated that systemic administration of ANA-12 to adult mice decreased TrkB activity in the brain without affecting neuronal survival. Mice administered ANA-12 demonstrated reduced anxiety- and depression-related behaviors on a variety of tests predictive of anxiolytic and antidepressant properties in humans. This study demonstrates that structure-based virtual screening strategy can be an efficient method for discovering potent TrkB-selective ligands that are active in vivo. We further propose that ANA-12 may be a valuable tool for studying BDNF/TrkB signaling and may constitute a lead compound for developing the next generation of therapeutic agents for the treatment of mood disorders
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