Therapeutic doses of buspirone block D3 receptors in the living primate brain

Sung Won Kim, Joanna S. Fowler, Phil Skolnick, Lisa Muench, Yeona Kang, Colleen Shea, Jean Logan, Dohyun Kim, Pauline Carter, Payton King, David Alexoff, Nora D. Volkow

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations


Dopamine D3 receptor (D3R) antagonists may be effective medications for multiple substance use disorders (SUDs). However, no selective D3R antagonists are currently available for clinical testing. Buspirone, originally characterized as a 5-HT1A partial agonist and used as an anxiolytic, also binds to D3R and D4R with high affinity, with lower affinity to D2R, and interferes with cocaine reward. Here we used PET with [11C]PHNO (D3R-preferring radioligand), [11C]raclopride (D2R/D3R radioligand) and [11C]NNC-112 (D1R radioligand) to measure occupancy of oral and parenteral buspirone in the primate brain. Intramuscular buspirone (0.19 and 0.5 mg/kg) blocked both [11C]PHNO and [11C]raclopride binding to striatum, exhibiting high occupancy (50-85%) at 15 min and rapid wash-out over 2-6 h. In contrast, oral buspirone (3 mg/kg) significantly blocked [11C]PHNO binding in D3-rich regions (globus pallidum and midbrain) at 3 h, but had minimal effects on [11C]raclopride binding (28-37% at 1 h and 10% at 3 h). Buspirone did not block [11C]NNC-112. Our findings provide evidence that i.m. buspirone blocks D3R and D2R, whereas oral buspirone is more selective towards D3R blockade in vivo, consistent with extensive first pass metabolism and supporting the hypothesis that its metabolites (5- and 6′-hydroxybuspirone) merit evaluation for treating SUDs. They also indicate that for oral buspirone to achieve greater than 80% sustained D3R occupancy, as might be needed to treat addiction, higher doses (at least three-fold) than those used to treat anxiety (maximal 60 mg) will be required. Nonetheless, based on previous clinical studies, these doses would be safe and well tolerated.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1257-1267
Number of pages11
JournalInternational Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology
Issue number8
StatePublished - 20 Aug 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • 6′-hydroxybuspirone
  • Addiction
  • buspirone
  • dopamine receptors


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