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Mol Pharmacol. 1992 Sep;42(3):415-22.

Chronic ethanol administration alters gamma-aminobutyric acidA receptor gene expression.

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Department of Pharmacology, University of Texas Health Science Center, San Antonio 78284-7764.


Chronic ethanol (alcohol) administration has been associated with alterations in the binding and function of the gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABAA) receptor. To evaluate the mechanism underlying these changes, we measured the steady state levels of the mRNAs for the alpha 1, alpha 2, alpha 3, alpha 5, and alpha 6 subunits of the GABAA receptor after chronic ethanol administration to rats and ethanol withdrawal for 24 hr. The results indicated that chronic ethanol administration resulted in a 61% decline in the level of the GABAA receptor alpha 1 subunit mRNAs [3.8 and 4.3 kilobases (kb)] in the cerebral cortex in rats. The levels of the alpha 2 subunit mRNAs (6 and 3 kb) and the alpha 5 subunit mRNA (2.8 kb) were also reduced, by 61, 45, and 51%, respectively, whereas there was no change in the level of the alpha 3 subunit mRNA (3 kb). Furthermore, the ethanol-induced decrease in receptor mRNA levels persisted for 24 hr, after withdrawal of ethanol and returned to control values at 36 hr of withdrawal. alpha 1 mRNA levels in cerebellum also decreased by 28%. The level of the alpha 6 subunit mRNA, which selectively encodes Ro15-4513 binding sites, was found to be increased by approximately 76% in the cerebellum. Also, the photoaffinity labeling studies using [3H]Ro15-4513 indicated an increase in the levels of various protein components of the GABAA receptor, in the cerebellum and the cerebral cortex (e.g., 50- and 55-kDa proteins in the cerebellum and 41- and 50-kDa proteins in the cortex), after chronic ethanol treatment. The increase in alpha 6 mRNA in the cerebellum might be related to the increased labeling of the 55-kDa (approximately 56-kDa) protein and partially responsible for the increased binding, as reported previously by us. Because the alpha 6 subunit is not expressed in cortex, involvement of an as yet unknown subunit in this region cannot be ruled out. The effect of chronic ethanol treatment appears to be specific for GABAA receptor subunit mRNAs, because the same treatment did not alter the levels of glyceraldehyde-3-dehydrogenase mRNA or poly(A)+ RNA. In summary, these data indicate that chronic ethanol treatment results in an alteration in the regulation of expression of GABAA receptor subunit-encoding mRNAs, which could be due to alterations in transcription or mRNA stability.

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