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Brain Res. 2006 Jul 7;1098(1):129-38. Epub 2006 Jun 5.

Developmental changes in the expression of GABAA receptor subunits alpha1, alpha2, and alpha3 in brain stem nuclei of rats.

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  • 1Department of Cell Biology, Neurobiology and Anatomy, Medical College of Wisconsin, 8701 Watertown Plank Road, Milwaukee, WI 53226, USA.


Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA)(A) receptor subunit switching is a suggested postnatal mechanism for changes in GABA transmission from depolarization to hyperpolarization. Previously, we found an apparent switch between GABA(A) alpha3 and alpha1 subunit expression in the rat pre-Bötzinger complex (PBC) on postnatal day (P) 12, a presumed peak critical period of respiratory nuclei development. The present study aimed at determining if GABA(A) subunit switching occurred in another respiratory nucleus, the ventrolateral subnucleus of the solitary tract nucleus (NTS(VL)), and in a non-respiratory cuneate nucleus (CN) of P0 to P21 rats. In both nuclei: (1) the expression of GABA(A) alpha1 subunit was relatively low at birth but increased with development; (2) that of GABA(A) alpha3 was relatively high at birth but declined with age; and (3) GABA(A) alpha2 remained relatively low and constant throughout development. However, the specific patterns differed between the two nuclei, but were similar between the NTS(VL) and the PBC. In the NTS(VL), GABA(A) alpha1 expression gradually increased from birth and peaked at P12, whereas that in the CN sharply rose from P7 and peaked at P10. GABA(A) alpha3 expression had a prominent decrease from P11 to P12 in the NTS(VL), whereas that in the CN only gradually declined from P10 to P12. The developmental trends of alpha1 and alpha3 in the NTS(VL) intersected close to P12, whereas those in the CN intersected at P10. Despite differences in timing, GABA(A) alpha subunit switching may be a common theme in the brain stem that may mediate different functional properties of GABA transmission.

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