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Fed Proc. 1980 Oct;39(12):3016-23.

Electrophysiological actions of benzodiazepines.


Electrophysiological investigations have revealed that benzodiazepines, applied either locally or systemically, reduce central nervous system excitability. The studies summarized here indicate that this depression of excitability by benzodiazepines is a result of an increase in gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) mediated inhibition. This increase in inhibition may result from benzodiazepines increasing the activity of some GABAergic neurons and also from a modulatory action of benzodiazepines on GABA actions at some postsynaptic receptor sites. The modulatory action is observed with doses of benzodiazepines that do not cause any direct effects on neuronal excitability or membrane polarization. Specificity tests indicate that benzodiazepines do not enhance inhibition mediated by glycine or monoamines such as norepinephrine or serotonin. Results of experiments with a convulsant benzodiazepine compound, which causes a specific reduction in GABA-mediated inhibition, are also presented, The data are discussed in terms of a model in which the benzodiazepine receptor, the GABA receptor, and the chloride ionophore are functionally linked. Furthermore, it is proposed that some postsynaptic actions of GABA may be continually regulated by the occupancy of a benzodiazepine receptor, and that occupancy of the benzodiazepine receptor may be permissive for the GABA-elicited increase in chloride ion permeability.

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