Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation




Pharmaceutical Sciences

First Advisor

Dr. Chang-Guo Zhan


Cocaine is a widely abused drug without an FDA-approved medication. It has been recognized as an ideal anti-cocaine medication to accelerate cocaine metabolism producing biologically inactive metabolites via a route similar to the primary cocaine-metabolizing pathway, i.e. butyrylcholinesterase (BChE)-catalyzed hydrolysis. However, the native BChE has a low catalytic activity against cocaine. We recently designed and discovered a set of BChE mutants with a high catalytic activity specifically for cocaine. An ideal, therapeutically valuable mutant of human BChE should have not only a significantly improved catalytic activity against cocaine, but also certain selectivity for cocaine over neurotransmitter acetylcholine (ACh) such that one would not expect systemic administration of the BChE mutant to interrupt cholinergic transmission. Through integrated computational-experimental studies, several BChE mutants were identified to have not only a considerably improved catalytic efficiency against cocaine, but also the desirable selectivity for cocaine over ACh. Representative BChE mutants have been confirmed to be potent in actual protection of mice from acute toxicity (convulsion and lethality) of a lethal dose of cocaine (180 mg/kg, LD100). Pretreatment with the BChE mutant (i.e. 1 min prior to cocaine administration) dose-dependently protected mice against cocaine-induced convulsions and lethality. The in vivo data reveal the primary factor, i.e. the relative catalytic efficiency, determining the efficacy in practical protection of mice from the acute cocaine toxicity and future direction for further improving the efficacy of the enzyme in the cocaine overdose treatment.

For further characterization in animal models, we successfully developed high-efficiency stable cell lines efficiently expressing the BChE mutants by using a lentivirus-based repeated-transduction method. The large-scale protein production enabled us to further characterize the in vivo profiles of the BChE mutant concerning the biological half-life and potency in accelerating cocaine clearance. In particular, it has been demonstrated that the BChE mutant can rapidly metabolize cocaine and completely eliminate cocaine-induced hyperactivity in rodents, implying that the BChE mutant may be developed as a promising therapeutic agent for cocaine abuse treatment.