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Nat Neurosci. 2005 Mar;8(3):339-45. Epub 2005 Feb 6.

Alcohol-induced motor impairment caused by increased extrasynaptic GABA(A) receptor activity.

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Department of Molecular and Medical Pharmacology, David Geffen School of Medicine, University of California, Los Angeles, California 90095, USA.


Neuronal mechanisms underlying alcohol intoxication are unclear. We find that alcohol impairs motor coordination by enhancing tonic inhibition mediated by a specific subtype of extrasynaptic GABA(A) receptor (GABAR), alpha6beta3delta, expressed exclusively in cerebellar granule cells. In recombinant studies, we characterize a naturally occurring single-nucleotide polymorphism that causes a single amino acid change (R100Q) in alpha6 (encoded in rats by the Gabra6 gene). We show that this change selectively increases alcohol sensitivity of alpha6beta3delta GABARs. Behavioral and electrophysiological comparisons of Gabra6(100R/100R) and Gabra6(100Q/100Q) rats strongly suggest that alcohol impairs motor coordination by enhancing granule cell tonic inhibition. These findings identify extrasynaptic GABARs as critical targets underlying low-dose alcohol intoxication and demonstrate that subtle changes in tonic inhibition in one class of neurons can alter behavior.

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