Clozapine-N-oxide (CNO) has long been the ligand of choice for selectively activating Designer Receptors Exclusively Activated by Designer Drugs (DREADDs). However, recent studies have challenged the long-held assertion that CNO is otherwise pharmacologically inert. The present study aimed to 1) determine whether CNO is reverse-metabolized to its parent compound clozapine in mice (as has recently been reported in rats), and 2) determine whether CNO exerts clozapine-like interoceptive stimulus effects in rats and/or mice. Following administration of 10.0 mg/kg CNO, pharmacokinetic analyses replicated recent reports of back-conversion to clozapine in rats and revealed that this phenomenon also occurs in mice. In rats and mice trained to discriminate 1.25 mg/kg clozapine from vehicle, CNO (1.0-20.0 mg/kg) produced partial substitution for the clozapine stimulus on average, with full substitution being detected in some individual animals of both species at doses frequently used to activate DREADDs. The present demonstration that CNO is converted to clozapine and exerts clozapine-like behavioral effects in both mice and rats further emphasizes the need for appropriate control groups in studies employing DREADDs, and highlights the utility of the drug discrimination procedure as a tool with which to screen the off-target effects of novel DREADD agonists.
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