The sigma-2 receptor (σ2R) is a sigma receptor subtype that has been found highly expressed in malignant cancer cells, and is currently under investigation for its potential diagnostic and therapeutic uses. The receptor has recently been identified with TMEM97, a protein for which gene and protein sequence is available that had been known to be involved in cholesterol homeostasis. Originally, it was thought that the sigma receptors were a type of opiate receptor, due to its ability to bind ligands such as benzomorphans and PCP. Difficulties were found in distinguishing between the sigma-2 receptor and the NMDA receptors, though it is now known they are not the same entities, and have different distributions throughout the brain. The sigma-2 receptor in particular is more densely located in parts of the brain that are responsible for motor function and emotional response. It has been found to play a role in both hormone signaling and calcium signaling, in neuronal signaling, in cell proliferation and death, and in binding of antipsychotics. The position of the sigma-2 receptor had not previously been located on the human chromosome.
The sigma-2 receptor takes part in a number of normal-function roles, including cell proliferation, non-neuronal, and neuronal signaling. Much of sigma-2 receptor function relies on signaling cascades. The receptor's interaction with EGFR and PGRMC1 proteins allow for sigma-2 receptors to play diverse roles within cell through Ras, PLC, and PI3K singaling.
Sigma-2 receptors have been found to be highly expressed in proliferating cells, including tumor cells, and to play a role in the differentiation, morphology, and survival of those cells. By interacting with EGFR membrane proteins sigma-2 receptors play a role in the regulation of signals further downstream such as PKC and RAF. Both PKC and Raf kinase up regulate transcription and cell proliferation.
Ligands of the sigma-2 receptor are exogenous and internalized by endocytosis, and can act as either agonists or antagonists. They can typically be classified into four groups, which are structurally related. It is not entirely understood how binding to the sigma-2 receptor occurs. Proposed models commonly include one small and one bulky hydrophobic pocket, electrostatic hydrogen interactions, and less commonly a third hydrophobic pocket.
A study of the four groups has revealed that a basic nitrogen and at least one hydrophobic moiety is needed to bind a sigma-2 receptor. In addition, there are molecular characteristics that increase the selectivity for sigma-2 receptors, which include bulky hydrophobic regions, nitrogen-carboxylic interaction, and additional basic nitrogens.
This is a figure shows several different brain imaging scans using [18F]ISO-1 sigma-2 receptor ligands. The scans allow tracking of tumor growth and cancer progression over a 10-week period. The figure also includes MRI scans for comparison with PET scans.
Sigma-2 receptors are highly expressed breast, ovarian, lung cancers, brain, bladder, colon cancers, and melanoma. This novelty makes them a valuable biomarker for identifying cancerous tissues. Furthermore, studies have shown that they are more highly expressed in malignant tumors than dormant tumors.
Exogenous sigma-2 receptor ligands have been altered to be neuronal-tracers, used to map cells and their connections. These tracers have high selectivity and affinity for sigma-2 receptors, and high lipophilicity, making them ideal for usage in the brain. Because sigma-2 receptors are highly expressed in tumor cells and are part of the cell proliferation mechanism, PET scans using sigma-2 targeted tracers can reveal if a tumor is proliferating and what its growth rate is.
Due to the binding capabilities of antipsychotic drugs and various neurotransmitters associated with mood, the sigma-2 receptor is a viable target for therapies related to neuropsychiatric disorders and modulation of emotional response. It is thought to be involved in the pathophysiology of schizophrenia, and sigma-2 receptors have been shown to be less abundant in schizophrenic patients. Additionally, PCP, which is an NMDA antagonist, can induce schizophrenia, while sigma-2 receptor activation has been shown to antagonize effects of PCP, implying antipsychotic capabilities. Sigma receptors are a potential target for treatment of dystonia, given high densities in affected regions of the brain. Anti-ischemics ifenprodil and eliprodil, the binding of which increases blood flow, have also shown affinity to sigma receptors.
In experimental trials in mice and rats, the sigma-2 receptor ligand siramensine caused reduced anxiety and displayed antidepressant capabilities, while other studies have shown inhibition of selective sigma receptor radioligands by antidepressants, in the mouse and rat brain.
Sigma-2 receptors have been associated with pancreatic cancer, lung cancer, breast cancer, melanoma, prostate cancer, and ovarian cancer. Tumor cells are shown to over-express sigma-2 receptors, allowing for potential cancer therapies as many sigma-2 receptor mediated cell responses happen only in tumor cells. Tumor cell responses are modulated via ligand binding. Sigma receptor ligands can act as agonists or antagonists, generating different cellular responses. Agonistsinhibit tumor cell proliferation and induce apoptosis, which is thought to be triggered by caspase-3 activity. Antagonists promote tumor cell proliferation, but this mechanism is less understood. Sigma receptor ligands have been conjugated to nanoparticles and peptides to deliver cancer treatment to tumor cells without targeting other tissues. The success with these methods have been limited to in vitro trials. Additionally, using sigma-2 receptors to target tumor cells allows for synergizing anti-cancer drug therapies. Some studies have shown that certain sigma receptor inhibitors increase cancer cells' susceptibility to chemotherapy. Other types of binding to sigma-2 receptors increases cytotoxicity of doxorubicin, antinomyocin, and other cancer cell killing drugs.
↑van Waarde A, Rybczynska AA, Ramakrishnan N, Ishiwata K, Elsinga PH, Dierckx RA (2010). "Sigma receptors in oncology: therapeutic and diagnostic applications of sigma ligands". Current Pharmaceutical Design. 16 (31): 3519–3537. doi:10.2174/138161210793563365. PMID21050178.