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J Neurosci. 1998 Apr 15;18(8):2944-53.

The role of an alpha subtype M2-M3 His in regulating inhibition of GABAA receptor current by zinc and other divalent cations.

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  • 1Department of Neurology, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48104-1687, USA.


Sensitivity of GABAA receptors (GABARs) to inhibition by zinc and other divalent cations is influenced by the alpha subunit subtype composition of the receptor. For example, alpha6beta3gamma2L receptors are more sensitive to inhibition by zinc than alpha1beta3gamma2L receptors. We examined the role of a His residue located in the M2-M3 extracellular domain (rat alpha6 H273) in the enhanced zinc sensitivity conferred by the alpha6 subtype. The alpha1 subtype contains an Asn (N274) residue in the equivalent location. GABA-activated whole-cell currents were obtained from L929 fibroblasts after transient transfection with expression vectors containing GABAA receptor cDNAs. Mutation of alpha1 (alpha1(N274H)) or alpha6 (alpha6(H273N)) subtypes did not alter the GABA EC50 of alphabeta3gamma2L receptors. alpha1(N274H)beta3gamma2L receptor currents were as sensitive to zinc as alpha6beta3gamma2L receptor currents, although alpha6(H273N)beta3gamma2L receptor currents had the reduced zinc sensitivity of alpha1beta3gamma2L receptor currents. We also examined the activity of other inhibitory divalent cations with varying alpha subtype dependence: nickel, cadmium, and copper. alpha6beta3gamma2L receptor currents were more sensitive to nickel, equally sensitive to cadmium, and less sensitive to copper than alpha1beta3gamma2L receptor currents. Studies with alpha1 and alpha6 chimeric subunits indicated that the structural dependencies of the activity of some of these cations were different from zinc. Compared with alpha6beta3gamma2L receptor currents, alpha6(H273N)beta3gamma2L receptor currents had reduced sensitivity to cadmium and nickel, but the sensitivity to copper was unchanged. Compared with alpha1beta3gamma2L receptor currents, alpha1(N274H)beta3gamma2L receptor currents had increased sensitivity to nickel, but the sensitivity to cadmium and copper was unchanged. These findings indicate that H273 of the alpha6 subtype plays an important role in determining the sensitivity of recombinant GABARs to the divalent cations zinc, cadmium, and nickel, but not to copper. Our results also suggest that the extracellular N-terminal domain of the alpha1 subunit contributes to a regulatory site(s) for divalent cations, conferring high sensitivity to inhibition by copper and cadmium.

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