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J Biol Chem. 2001 Sep 28;276(39):36275-80. Epub 2001 Jul 20.

Subunit arrangement of gamma-aminobutyric acid type A receptors.

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Department of Pharmacology, University of Bern, Friedb├╝hlstrasse 49, CH-3010 Bern, Switzerland.


The GABA(A) receptors are ligand-gated chloride channels. The subunit stoichiometry of the receptors is controversial; four, five, or six subunits per receptor molecule have been proposed for alphabeta receptors, whereas alphabetagamma receptors are assumed to be pentamers. In this study, alpha-beta and beta-alpha tandem cDNAs from the alpha1 and beta2 subunits of the GABA(A) receptor were constructed. We determined the minimal length of the linker that is required between the two subunits for functional channel expression for each of the tandem constructs. 10- and 23-amino acid residues are required for alpha-beta and beta-alpha, respectively. The tandem constructs either alone or in combination with each other failed to express functional channels in Xenopus oocytes. Therefore, we can exclude tetrameric or hexameric alphabeta GABA(A) receptors. We can also exclude proteolysis of the tandem constructs. In addition, the tandem constructs were combined with single alpha, beta, or gamma subunits to allow formation of pentameric arrangements. In contrast to the combination with alpha subunits, the combination with either beta or gamma subunits led to expression of functional channels. Therefore, a pentameric arrangement containing two alpha1 and three beta2 subunits is proposed for the receptor composed of alpha and beta subunits. Our findings also favor an arrangement betaalphagammabetaalpha for the receptor composed of alpha, beta, and gamma subunits.

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