Voltage-gated ion channels generate cellular excitability, cause diseases when mutated, and act as drug targets in hyperexcitability diseases, such as epilepsy, cardiac arrhythmia and pain.
Unfortunately, many patients do not satisfactorily respond to the present-day drugs.
Researchers found that the naturally occurring resin acid dehydroabietic acid (DHAA) is a potent opener of a voltage-gated K channel and thereby a potential suppressor of cellular excitability.
DHAA acts via a non-traditional mechanism, by electrostatically activating the voltage-sensor domain, rather than directly targeting the ion-conducting pore domain.
By systematic iterative modifications of DHAA authors synthesized 71 derivatives and found 32 compounds more potent than DHAA. The most potent compound, Compound 77, is 240 times more efficient than DHAA in opening a K channel.
This and other potent compounds reduced excitability in dorsal root ganglion neurons, suggesting that resin-acid derivatives can become the first members of a new family of drugs with the potential for treatment of hyperexcitability diseases.