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Front Neural Circuits. 2013 Oct 24;7:170. doi: 10.3389/fncir.2013.00170. eCollection 2013.

Pathophysiological power of improper tonic GABA(A) conductances in mature and immature models.

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Department of Neurology, Massachusetts General Hospital Charlestown, MA, USA ; Department of Pediatrics, Hokkaido University Graduate School of Medicine Sapporo, Japan.


High-affinity extrasynaptic gamma-aminobutyric acid A (GABA(A)) receptors are tonically activated by low and consistent levels of ambient GABA, mediating chronic inhibition against neuronal excitability (tonic inhibition) and the modulation of neural development. Synaptic (phasic) inhibition is spatially and temporally precise compared with tonic inhibition, which provides blunt yet strong integral inhibitory force by shunting electrical signaling. Although effects of acute modification of tonic inhibition are known, its pathophysiological significance remains unclear because homeostatic regulation of neuronal excitability can compensate for long-term deficit of extrasynaptic GABA(A) receptor activation. Nevertheless, tonic inhibition is of great interest for its pathophysiological involvement in central nervous system (CNS) diseases and thus as a therapeutic target. Together with the development of experimental models for various pathological states, recent evidence demonstrates such pathological involvements of tonic inhibition in neuronal dysfunction. This review focuses on the recent progress of tonic activation of GABA(A) conductance on the development and pathology of the CNS. Findings indicate that neuronal function in various brain regions are exacerbated with a gain or loss of function of tonic inhibition by GABA spillover. Disturbance of tonic GABA(A) conductance mediated by non-synaptic ambient GABA may result in brain mal-development. Therefore, various pathological states (epilepsy, motor dysfunctions, psychiatric disorders, and neurodevelopmental disorders) may be partly attributable to abnormal tonic GABA(A) conductances. Thus, the tone of tonic conductance and level of ambient GABA may be precisely tuned to maintain the regular function and development of the CNS. Therefore, receptor expression and factors for regulating the ambient GABA concentration are highlighted to gain a deeper understanding of pathology and therapeutic strategy for CNS diseases.


GABA; GABAA receptor; GAT; ambient; extrasynaptic; neurological disease; tonic inhibition; transporter

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