Send to

Choose Destination
J Physiol. 2015 Nov 15;593(22):4943-61. doi: 10.1113/JP270971.

Contrasting actions of a convulsant barbiturate and its anticonvulsant enantiomer on the α1 β3 γ2L GABAA receptor account for their in vivo effects.

Author information

Department of Anaesthesia, Critical Care and Pain Medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, MA, 02114, USA.
Deparment of Medicinal Chemistry and Pharmacognosy, University of Illinois at Chicago, Chicago, IL, 60612, USA.
Department of Neurology, School of Medicine, University of California, Davis, Sacramento, CA, 95817, USA.
Department of Biological Chemistry and Molecular Pharmacology, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA, 02115, USA.



Most barbiturates are anaesthetics but unexpectedly a few are convulsants whose mechanism of action is poorly understood. We synthesized and characterized a novel pair of chiral barbiturates that are capable of photolabelling their binding sites on GABAA receptors. In mice the S-enantiomer is a convulsant, but the R-enantiomer is an anticonvulsant. The convulsant S-enantiomer binds solely at an inhibitory site. It is both an open state inhibitor and a resting state inhibitor. Its action is pH independent, suggesting the pyrimidine ring plays little part in binding. The inhibitory site is not enantioselective because the R-enantiomer inhibits with equal affinity. In contrast, only the anticonvulsant R-enantiomer binds to the enhancing site on open channels, causing them to stay open longer. The enhancing site is enantioselective. The in vivo actions of the convulsant S-enantiomer are accounted for by its interactions with GABAA receptors.


Most barbiturates are anaesthetics but a few unexpectedly are convulsants. We recently located the anaesthetic sites on GABAA receptors (GABAA Rs) by photolabelling with an anaesthetic barbiturate. To apply the same strategy to locate the convulsant sites requires the creation and mechanistic characterization of a suitable agent. We synthesized enantiomers of a novel, photoactivable barbiturate, 1-methyl-5-propyly-5-(m-trifluoromethyldiazirinyl) phenyl barbituric acid (mTFD-MPPB). In mice, S-mTFD-MPPB acted as a convulsant, whereas R-mTFD-MPPB acted as an anticonvulsant. Using patch clamp electrophysiology and fast solution exchange on recombinant human α1 β3 γ2L GABAA Rs expressed in HEK cells, we found that S-mTFD-MPPB inhibited GABA-induced currents, whereas R-mTFD-MPPB enhanced them. S-mTFD-MPPB caused inhibition by binding to either of two inhibitory sites on open channels with bimolecular kinetics. It also inhibited closed, resting state receptors at similar concentrations, decreasing the channel opening rate and shifting the GABA concentration-response curve to the right. R-mTFD-MPPB, like most anaesthetics, enhanced receptor gating by rapidly binding to allosteric sites on open channels, initiating a rate-limiting conformation change to stabilized open channel states. These states had slower closing rates, thus shifting the GABA concentration-response curve to the left. Under conditions when most GABAA Rs were open, an inhibitory action of R-mTFD-MPPB was revealed that had a similar IC50 to that of S-mTFD-MPPB. Thus, the inhibitory sites are not enantioselective, and the convulsant action of S-mTFD-MPPB results from its negligible affinity for the enhancing, anaesthetic sites. Interactions with these two classes of barbiturate binding sites on GABAA Rs underlie the enantiomers' different pharmacological activities in mice.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article

Supplemental Content

Full text links

Icon for Wiley Icon for PubMed Central
Loading ...
Support Center