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Neuropsychopharmacology. 1991 Jan;4(1):9-15.

Pharmacologic significance of the structural heterogeneity of the GABAA receptor-chloride ion channel complex.

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  • 1FIDIA-Georgetown Institute for the Neurosciences, Washington, D.C. 20007.


Gamma-Aminobutyric acidA (GABAA) receptors are heterooligomeric proteins with an apparent high degree of variability in the specific assembly of their component subunits. Although the precise nucleotide and deduced amino acid sequences of many of the various GABAA receptor subunits are known, the exact quaternary structures of the native receptors are unknown. Recombinant expression of receptors with different combinations of subunits produces a variety of structurally different receptors with varying Cl- channel function and sensitivities to modulation by drugs such as benzodiazepines. Differences in the regional distribution of GABAA receptor subtypes in brain, coupled with the observed differences in the relative affinities of various anxiolytic and hypnotic drugs among these receptor subtypes, suggests a new strategy for drug development that is the targeting of drugs to specific subpopulations of GABAA receptors. This is a review of the recent striking progress in understanding the heterogeneity of the GABAA receptors and its possible significance.

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