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Nat Neurosci. 2003 Nov;6(11):1145-52. Epub 2003 Oct 12.

EXP-1 is an excitatory GABA-gated cation channel.

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Neuroscience Program and Department of Biology, University of Utah, 257 South 1400 East, Salt Lake City, Utah 84112-0840, USA.


Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) mediates fast inhibitory neurotransmission by activating anion-selective ligand-gated ion channels. Although electrophysiological studies indicate that GABA may activate cation-selective ligand-gated ion channels in some cell types, such a channel has never been characterized at the molecular level. Here we show that GABA mediates enteric muscle contraction in the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans via the EXP-1 receptor, a cation-selective ligand-gated ion channel. The EXP-1 protein resembles ionotropic GABA receptor subunits in almost all domains. In the pore-forming domain of EXP-1, however, the residues that confer anion selectivity are exchanged for those that specify cation selectivity. When expressed in Xenopus laevis oocytes, EXP-1 forms a GABA receptor that is permeable to cations and not anions. We conclude that some of the excitatory functions assigned to GABA are mediated by cation channels rather than by anion channels.

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