Fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH) is a promising target for modulating endocannabinoid and fatty acid ethanolamide signaling, which may have important therapeutic potential. We recently described a new class of O-arylcarbamate inhibitors of FAAH, including the cyclohexylcarbamic acid biphenyl-3-yl ester URB524 (half-maximal inhibitory concentration, IC50 ) 63 nM), which have significant anxiolytic-like properties in rats. In the present study, by introducing a selected group of substituents at the meta and para positions of the distal phenyl ring of URB524, we have characterized structure-activity profiles for this series of compounds and shown that introduction of small polar groups in the meta position greatly improves inhibitory potency. Most potent in the series was the m-carbamoyl derivative URB597 (4i, IC50 ) 4.6 nM). Furthermore, quantitative structure-activity relationship (QSAR) analysis of an extended set of meta-substituted derivatives revealed a negative correlation between potency and lipophilicity and suggested that small-sized substituents may undertake polar interactions with the binding pocket of the enzyme. Docking studies and molecular dynamics simulations, using the crystal structure of FAAH, indicated that the O-biphenyl scaffold of the carbamate inhibitors can be accommodated within a lipophilic region of the substrate-binding site, where their folded shape mimics the initial 10-12 carbon atoms of the arachidonyl moiety of anandamide (a natural FAAH substrate) and methyl arachidonyl fluorophosphonate (a nonselective FAAH inhibitor). Moreover, substituents at the meta position of the distal phenyl ring can form hydrogen bonds with atoms located on the polar section of a narrow channel pointing toward the membraneassociated side of the enzyme. The structure-activity characterization reported here should help optimize the pharmacodynamic and pharmacokinetic properties of this class of compounds.
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