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Eur J Neurosci. 2011 Jul;34(2):250-62. doi: 10.1111/j.1460-9568.2011.07740.x. Epub 2011 Jun 21.

Localization of GABA-A receptor alpha subunits on neurochemically distinct cell types in the rat locus coeruleus.

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Institute for Biomedical and Biomolecular Sciences, School of Pharmacy and Biomedical Sciences, University of Portsmouth, St Michael's Building, White Swan Road, Portsmouth PO1 2DT, UK.


The locus coeruleus (LC) provides the major source of noradrenaline to the central nervous system and is modulated by neurochemically diverse afferents. LC function is central to arousal, memory, cognition and the stress response, with dysfunction of the LC-noradrenergic axis implicated in debilitating psychiatric disorders. The precise targeting of neurotransmitter receptors within the LC is essential for processing the information contained in diverse afferents and thus LC output. The inhibitory modulation of LC neurons is thought to be effected mainly through GABA-A receptors (GABA(A)Rs). Diverse GABA(A)Rs are pentameric complexes assembled from a repertoire of subunits resulting in substantial diversity in their molecular, functional and pharmacological properties throughout the brain. The precise location of distinct GABA(A) R subunits in subregions of the LC, and the neurochemical identity of the cells that express them, remains to be determined. Here, we show that the GABA(A)R alpha1 subunit is expressed exclusively in neurochemically and morphologically diverse non-noradrenergic cell types within the LC, which may innervate the principal noradrenergic cells. Thus, the GABA(A)R alpha1 subunit could provide a neurochemical signature for a pool of local circuit interneurons in the LC. In contrast, non-overlapping GABA(A)R alpha2 and alpha3 subunit-immunoreactive puncta were enriched on noradrenergic dendrites and, to a lesser extent, on somata. The study reveals a cell-type- and domain-specific expression pattern of distinct GABA(A)R subunits in the LC. These data will serve as a template for understanding inhibitory modulation of this region and facilitate more directed pharmacological strategies for disorders arising from the impairment of LC function.

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