Effect of chemogenetic actuator drugs on prefrontal cortex-dependent working memory in nonhuman primates

Nicholas A. Upright, Mark G. Baxter

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


The most common chemogenetic neuromodulatory system, designer receptors exclusively activated by designer drugs (DREADDs), uses a non-endogenous actuator ligand to activate a modified muscarinic acetylcholine receptor that is insensitive to acetylcholine. It is crucial in studies using these systems to test the potential effects of DREADD actuators prior to any DREADD transduction, so that effects of DREADDs can be attributed to the chemogenetic system rather than the actuator drug, particularly in experiments using nonhuman primates. We investigated working memory performance after injections of three DREADD actuators, clozapine, olanzapine, and deschloroclozapine, in four male rhesus monkeys tested in a spatial delayed response task before any DREADD transduction took place. Performance at 0.1 mg/kg clozapine and 0.1 mg/kg deschloroclozapine did not differ from vehicle in any of the four subjects. 0.2 mg/kg clozapine impaired working memory function in three of the four monkeys. Two monkeys were impaired after 0.1 mg/kg olanzapine and two were impaired after 0.3 mg/kg deschloroclozapine. We speculate that the unique neuropharmacology of prefrontal cortex function makes the primate prefrontal cortex especially vulnerable to off-target effects of DREADD actuator drugs with affinity for endogenous monoaminergic receptor systems. These findings underscore the importance of within-subject controls for DREADD actuator drugs in the specific tasks under study to confirm that effects following DREADD receptor transduction are not owing to the actuator drug itself. They also suggest that off-target effects of DREADD actuators may limit translational applications of chemogenetic neuromodulation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1793-1798
Number of pages6
Issue number11
StatePublished - 1 Oct 2020


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