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Mol Pharmacol. 1996 Sep;50(3):670-8.

Functional characterization of human gamma-aminobutyric acidA receptors containing the alpha 4 subunit.

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  • 1Merck Sharp & Dohme Research Laboratories, Harlow, Essex, UK.


The alpha subunits are an important determinant of the pharmacology of gamma-aminobutyric acidA (GABAA) receptors with respect to agonists, antagonists, and modulatory compounds, particularly the benzodiazepines. The alpha 4 subunit is the least abundant subunit in the brain and the most similar in deduced primary amino acid sequence to the alpha 6 subunit. We demonstrate that the human alpha 4 subunit forms a functional receptor when expressed with beta gamma 2, demonstrating some properties similar to alpha 6 beta gamma 2 and some properties more akin to alpha 1 beta gamma 2. It also exhibited some properties that were unlike any other alpha subunit-containing receptor. GABA affinity seemed to be identical to that of the alpha 1 beta 1 gamma 2 receptor; however, the partial agonists 4,5,6,7-tetrahydroisoxazolo-[5,4-c]pyridin-3-ol and piperidine-4-sulfonic acid showed lower efficacy than at either alpha 1 beta 1 gamma 2 or alpha 6 beta 1 gamma 2. Benzodiazepine pharmacology of alpha 4-containing receptors was similar to that of alpha 6-containing receptors with the exception of dimethoxy-4-ethyl-beta-carboline-3-carboxylate, which behaved as a partial inverse agonist. Pentobarbital potentiated alpha 4 beta 1 gamma 2 receptor GABA responses to a level comparable with alpha 6 beta 1 gamma 2 (approximately 700% of EC20); however, unlike alpha 6 beta 1 gamma 2 receptors, it did not elicit any direct activation of the receptor. Propofol also potentiated alpha 4 beta 1 gamma 2 GABA responses but to a level more comparable to that of alpha 1 beta 1 gamma 2, suggesting that these compounds act via different sites. Unlike other subunit combinations, propofol did not elicit a direct activation of the receptor. These results suggest that the mechanism for direct activation of the GABAA receptor by pentobarbital and propofol is absent on alpha 4-containing receptors. Furosemide, which non-competitively inhibits the GABAA receptor, showed 700-fold selectivity for alpha 6 beta 3 gamma 2 receptors over alpha 1-, alpha 2-, alpha 3-, and alpha 5-containing receptors and exhibited selectivity for alpha 4 beta 3 gamma 2 receptors (> 50-fold). These experiments reveal a unique pharmacology for alpha 4-containing receptors with some similarities to both alpha 6- and alpha 1-containing receptors.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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