Pituitary adenylate cyclase-activating polypeptide (PACAP) is a 38-amino acid peptide that was initially isolated from hypothalamus extracts on the basis of its ability to stimulate the production of cAMP in cultured pituitary cells. Recent studies have shown that PACAP exerts potent neuroprotective effects not only in vitro but also in in vivo models of Parkinsons disease, Huntingtons disease, traumatic brain injury and stroke. The protective effects of PACAP are based on its capacity to prevent neuronal apoptosis by acting directly on neurons or indirectly through the release of neuroprotective factors by astrocytes. These biological activities are mainly mediated through activation of the PAC1 receptor which is currently considered as a potential target for the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases. However, the use of native PACAP, the endogenous ligand of PAC1, as an efficient neuroprotective drug is actually limited by its rapid degradation. Moreover, injection of PACAP to human induces peripheral side effects which are mainly mediated through VPAC1 and VPAC2 receptors. Strategies to overcome these compromising conditions include the development of metabolically stable analogs of PACAP acting as selective agonists of the PAC1 receptor. This review presents an overview of the structure- activity relationships of PACAP and summarizes the molecular and conformational requirements for activation of PAC1 receptor. The applicability of PACAP analogs as therapeutic agents for treatment of neurodegenerative diseases is also discussed.
Keywords: PACAP, PAC1 receptor, neuroprotection, neurodegenerative diseases, neurological insults, structure-activity relationships, stable analogs
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