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Br J Pharmacol. 2003 Dec;140(8):1363-72. Epub 2003 Nov 17.

Thymol, a constituent of thyme essential oil, is a positive allosteric modulator of human GABA(A) receptors and a homo-oligomeric GABA receptor from Drosophila melanogaster.

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Department of Pharmaceutical and Biological Chemistry, The School of Pharmacy, 29-39 Brunswick Square, London WC1N 1AX.


The GABA-modulating and GABA-mimetic activities of the monoterpenoid thymol were explored on human GABAA and Drosophila melanogaster homomeric RDLac GABA receptors expressed in Xenopus laevis oocytes, voltage-clamped at -60 mV. The site of action of thymol was also investigated. Thymol, 1-100 microm, resulted in a dose-dependent potentiation of the EC20 GABA response in oocytes injected with either alpha1beta3gamma2s GABAA subunit cDNAs or the RDLac subunit RNA. At 100 microm thymol, current amplitudes in response to GABA were 416+/-72 and 715+/-85% of controls, respectively. On both receptors, thymol, 100 microm, elicited small currents in the absence of GABA. The EC50 for GABA at alpha1beta3gamma2s GABAA receptors was reduced by 50 microm thymol from 15+/-3 to 4+/-1 microm, and the Hill slope changed from 1.35+/-0.14 to 1.04+/-0.16; there was little effect on the maximum GABA response. Thymol (1-100 microm) potentiation of responses to EC20 GABA for alpha1beta1gamma2s, alpha6beta3gamma2s and alpha1beta3gamma2s human GABAA receptors was almost identical, arguing against actions at benzodiazepine or loreclezole sites. Neither flumazenil, 3-hydroxymethyl-beta-carboline (3-HMC), nor 5alpha-pregnane-3alpha, 20alpha-diol (5alpha-pregnanediol) affected thymol potentiation of the GABA response at alpha1beta3gamma2s receptors, providing evidence against actions at the benzodiazepine/beta-carboline or steroid sites. Thymol stimulated the agonist actions of pentobarbital and propofol on alpha1beta3gamma2s receptors, consistent with a mode of action distinct from that of either compound. These data suggest that thymol potentiates GABAA receptors through a previously unidentified binding site.

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