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J Neurosci. 2000 May 15;20(10):3588-95.

GABA(A) receptor epsilon and theta subunits display unusual structural variation between species and are enriched in the rat locus ceruleus.

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Department of Pharmacology and Clinical Pharmacology, and Turku Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, University of Turku, FIN-20520 Turku, Finland.


Previously, GABA(A) receptor epsilon and theta subunits have been identified only in human. Here, we describe properties of the epsilon and theta subunit genes from mouse and rat that reveal an unusually high level of divergence from their human homologs. In addition to a low level of amino acid sequence conservation ( approximately 70%), the rodent epsilon subunit cDNAs encode a unique Pro/Glx motif of approximately 400 residues within the N-terminal extracellular domain of the subunits. Transcripts of the rat epsilon subunit were detected in brain and heart, whereas the mouse theta subunit mRNA was detectable in brain, lung, and spleen by Northern blot analysis. In situ hybridization revealed a particularly strong signal for both subunit mRNAs in rat locus ceruleus in which expression was detectable from the first postnatal day. Lower levels of coexpression were also detected in other brainstem nuclei and in the hypothalamus. However, the expression pattern of theta subunit mRNA was more widespread than that of epsilon subunit, being found also in the cerebral cortex of rat pups. In contrast to primate brain, neither subunit was expressed in the hippocampus or substantia nigra. The results indicate that GABA(A) receptor epsilon and theta subunits are evolving at a much faster rate than other known GABA(A) receptor subunits and that their expression patterns and functional properties may differ significantly between species.

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