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J Neurosci. 2003 Nov 26;23(34):10934-43.

Neurosteroids shift partial agonist activation of GABA(A) receptor channels from low- to high-efficacy gating patterns.

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  • 1Neuroscience Graduate Program, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48104-1687, USA.


Although GABA activates synaptic (alphabetagamma) GABA(A) receptors with high efficacy, partial agonist activation of alphabetagamma isoforms and GABA activation of the primary extrasynaptic (alphabetadelta) GABA(A) receptors are limited to low-efficacy activity, characterized by minimal desensitization and brief openings. The unusual sensitivity of alphabetadelta receptor channels to neurosteroid modulation prompted investigation of whether this high sensitivity was dependent on the delta subunit or the low-efficacy channel function that it confers. We show that the isoform specificity (alphabetadelta > alphabetagamma) of neurosteroid modulation could be reversed by conditions that reversed isoform-specific activity modes, including the use of beta-alanine to achieve increased efficacy with alphabetadelta receptors and taurine to render alphabetagamma receptors low efficacy. We suggest that neurosteroids preferentially enhance low-efficacy GABA(A) receptor activity independent of subunit composition. Allosteric conversion of partial to full agonism may be a general mechanism for reversibly scaling the efficacy of GABA(A) receptors to endogenous partial agonists.

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