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Gene. 1999 Feb 18;227(2):213-22.

Evolution of GABA(A) receptor diversity in the human genome.

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  • 1Laboratory of Molecular Neurobiology, Department of Pharmacology, 80 East Concord Street, Boston University School of Medicine, Boston MA 02118, USA.


Nowhere is the record of receptor evolution more accessible than in the organization of the 19 vertebrate genes coding for subunits of the major inhibitory neurotransmitter receptor in the central nervous system, the gamma-aminobutyric acid receptor (GABAAR). Co-expression of alpha, beta, and gamma subunit genes is necessary for the formation of a GABAAR that is potentiated by widely used anxiolytics, anticonvulsants, and hypnotics. The identification of alpha, beta, and gamma genes on chromosomes 4, 5, and 15 suggests that co-localization of a gamma gene with an alpha and beta may be important for brain function. We have now directly examined the organization of GABAAR subunit genes on human chromosomes. Estimates of physical distance using in situ hybridization to cells in interphase, and gene localization using hybridization to cells in metaphase demonstrate the existence of beta-alpha-alpha-gamma gene clusters in cytogenetic bands on chromosomes 4(p12) and 5(q34). Sequencing of PAC clones establishes intercluster conservation of a unique head-to-head configuration for alpha and beta genes on chromosomes 4, 5, and 15. Remarkably, phylogenetic tree analysis predicts the existence of a beta-alpha-gamma ancestral gene cluster in which internal duplication of an ancestral alpha was followed by cluster duplication, resulting in the relative chromosomal positions of modern GABAAR subunit genes in the human genome.

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