CNS pharmacology of NKCC1 inhibitors
The Na-K-2Cl cotransporter NKCC1 and the neuron-specific K-Cl cotransporter KCC2 are considered attractive CNS drug targets because altered neuronal chloride regulation and consequent effects on GABAergic signaling have been implicated in numerous CNS disorders. While KCC2 modulators are not yet clinically available, the loop diuretic bumetanide has been used off-label in attempts to treat brain disorders and as a tool for NKCC1 inhibition in preclinical models. Bumetanide is known to have anticonvulsant and neuroprotective effects under some pathophysiological conditions. However, as shown in several species from neonates to adults (mice, rats, dogs, and by extrapolation in humans), at the low clinical doses of bumetanide approved for diuresis, this drug has negligible access into the CNS, reaching levels that are much lower than what is needed to inhibit NKCC1 in cells within the brain parenchyma. Several drug discovery strategies have been initiated over the last ∼15 years to develop brain-permeant compounds that, ideally, should be selective for NKCC1 to eliminate the diuresis mediated by inhibition of renal NKCC2. The strategies employed to improve the pharmacokinetic and pharmacodynamic properties of NKCC1 blockers include evaluation of other clinically approved loop diuretics; development of lipophilic prodrugs of bumetanide; development of side-chain derivatives of bumetanide; and unbiased high-throughput screening approaches of drug discovery based on large chemical compound libraries. The main outcomes are that (1), non-acidic loop diuretics such as azosemide and torasemide may have advantages as NKCC1 inhibitors vs. bumetanide; (2), bumetanide prodrugs lead to significantly higher brain levels than the parent drug and have lower diuretic activity; (3), the novel bumetanide side-chain derivatives do not exhibit any functionally relevant improvement of CNS accessibility or NKCC1 selectivity vs. bumetanide; (4) novel compounds discovered by high-throughput screening may resolve some of the inherent problems of bumetanide, but as yet this has not been achieved. Thus, further research is needed to optimize the design of brain-permeant NKCC1 inhibitors. In parallel, a major challenge is to identify the mechanisms whereby various NKCC1-expressing cellular targets of these drugs within (e.g., neurons, oligodendrocytes or astrocytes) and outside the brain parenchyma (e.g., the blood-brain barrier, the choroid plexus, and the endocrine system), as well as molecular off-target effects, might contribute to their reported therapeutic and adverse effects.