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Neurochem Res. 2014 Jun;39(6):1104-17. doi: 10.1007/s11064-013-1202-1. Epub 2013 Dec 19.

Altered localization of the δ subunit of the GABAA receptor in the thalamus of α4 subunit knockout mice.

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Department of Neurobiology, CHS 73-235, David Geffen School of Medicine at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), Los Angeles, CA, 90095-1763, USA.


The α4 subunit of the GABAA receptor (GABAAR) is highly expressed in the thalamus where receptors containing the α4 and δ subunits are major mediators of tonic inhibition. The α4 subunit also exhibits considerable plasticity in a number of physiological and pathological conditions, raising questions about the expression of remaining GABAAR subunits when the α4 subunit is absent. Immunohistochemical studies of an α4 subunit knockout (KO) mouse revealed a substantial decrease in δ subunit expression in the ventrobasal nucleus of the thalamus as well as other forebrain regions where the α4 subunit is normally expressed. In contrast, several subunits associated primarily with phasic inhibition, including the α1 and γ2 subunits, were moderately increased. Intracellular localization of the δ subunit was also altered. While δ subunit labeling was decreased within the neuropil, some labeling remained in the cell bodies of many neurons in the ventrobasal nucleus. Confocal microscopy demonstrated co-localization of this labeling with an endoplasmic reticulum marker, and electron microscopy demonstrated increased immunogold labeling near the endoplasmic reticulum in the α4 KO mouse. These results emphasize the strong partnership of the δ and α4 subunit in the thalamus and suggest that the α4 subunit of the GABAAR plays a critical role in trafficking of the δ subunit to the neuronal surface. The findings also suggest that previously observed reductions in tonic inhibition in the α4 subunit KO mouse are likely to be related to alterations in δ subunit expression, in addition to loss of the α4 subunit.

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