Buspirone was originally classified as an azaspirodecanedione, shortened to azapirone or azaspirone due to the fact that its chemical structure contained this moiety, and other drugs with similar structures were labeled as such as well. However, despite all being called azapirones, not all of them actually contain the azapirodecanedione component, and most in fact do not or contain a variation of it. Additionally, many azapirones are also pyrimidinylpiperazines, though again this does not apply to them all.
Drugs classed as azapirones can be identified by their -spirone or -pirone suffix.
While some of the listed properties such as 5-HT2A and D2 blockade may be useful in certain indications such as in the treatment of schizophrenia (as with perospirone and tiospirone), all of them except 5-HT1A agonism are generally undesirable in anxiolytics and only contribute to side effects. As a result, further development has commenced to bring more selective of anxiolytic agents to the market. An example of this initiative is gepirone, which is currently in clinical trials in the United States for the treatment of major depression and generalized anxiety disorder. Another example is tandospirone which has been licensed in Japan for the treatment of anxiety and as an augmentation to antidepressants for depression.
5-HT1A receptor partial agonists have demonstrated efficacy against depression in rodent studies and human clinical trials. Unfortunately, however, their efficacy is limited and they are only relatively mild antidepressants. Instead of being used as monotherapy treatments, they are more commonly employed as augmentations to serotonergic antidepressants like the SSRIs. It has been proposed that high intrinsic activity at 5-HT1A postsynaptic receptors is necessary for maximal therapeutic benefits to come to prominence, and as a result, investigation has commenced in azapirones which act as 5-HT1A receptor full agonists such as alnespirone and eptapirone. Indeed, in preclinical studies, eptapirone produces robust antidepressant effects which surpass those of even high doses of imipramine and paroxetine.
Azapirones are poorly but nonetheless appreciably absorbed and have a rapid onset of action, but have only very short half-lives ranging from 1–3 hours. As a result, they must be administered 2-3 times a day. The only exception to this rule is umespirone, which has a very long duration with a single dose lasting as long as 23 hours. Unfortunately, umespirone has not been commercialized. An extended release formulation of gepirone is currently under development and if approved, should help to improve this issue.
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