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Behav Brain Res. 2011 Mar 1;217(2):379-85. doi: 10.1016/j.bbr.2010.11.008. Epub 2010 Nov 9.

The sedative but not the memory-blocking properties of ethanol are modulated by α5-subunit-containing γ-aminobutyric acid type A receptors.

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Institute of Medical Science, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario M5S 1A8, Canada.


The precise mechanisms underlying the memory-blocking properties of ethanol are unknown, in part because ethanol targets a wide array of neurotransmitter receptors and transporters. The aim of this study was to determine whether the memory loss caused by ethanol is mediated, in part, by α5 subunit-containing γ-aminobutyric acid subtype A receptors. These receptors have been implicated in learning and memory processes and are targets for a variety of neurodepressive drugs. Also, since these receptors generate a tonic inhibitory current in hippocampal pyramidal neurons, we examined whether concentrations of ethanol that block memory in vivo increased the tonic current using whole-cell patch-clamp recordings in hippocampal neurons. Null mutant mice lacking the α5 subunit (Gabra5-/-) and wild-type mice were equally impaired in contextual fear conditioning by moderate (1mg/kg) and high (1.5mg/kg) doses of ethanol. The higher dose of ethanol also reduced auditory delay fear conditioning to the same extent in the two genotypes. Interestingly, wild-type mice were more sensitive than Gabra5-/- mice to the sedative effects of low (0.5mg/kg) and moderate (1mg/kg) doses of ethanol in the open-field task. Concentrations of ethanol that impaired memory performance in vivo did not increase the amplitude of the tonic current. Together, the results suggest that the α5-subunit containing γ-aminobutyric acid subtype A receptors are not direct targets for positive modulation by ethanol nor do they contribute to ethanol-induced memory loss. In contrast, these receptors may contribute to the sedative properties of ethanol.

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