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PLoS One. 2018 Apr 27;13(4):e0196083. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0196083. eCollection 2018.

Expression of the eight GABAA receptor α subunits in the developing zebrafish central nervous system.

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Neuroscience and Behavior Graduate Program, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, MA, United States of America.
Biology Department, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, MA, United States of America.
Department of Biology and Health Sciences, Pace University, Pleasantville, NY, United States of America.


GABA is a robust regulator of both developing and mature neural networks. It exerts many of its effects through GABAA receptors, which are heteropentamers assembled from a large array of subunits encoded by distinct genes. In mammals, there are 19 different GABAA subunit types, which are divided into the α, β, γ, δ, ε, π, θ and ρ subfamilies. The immense diversity of GABAA receptors is not fully understood. However, it is known that specific isoforms, with their distinct biophysical properties and expression profiles, tune responses to GABA. Although larval zebrafish are well-established as a model system for neural circuit analysis, little is known about GABAA receptors diversity and expression in this system. Here, using database analysis, we show that the zebrafish genome contains at least 23 subunits. All but the mammalian θ and ε subunits have at least one zebrafish ortholog, while five mammalian GABAA receptor subunits have two zebrafish orthologs. Zebrafish contain one subunit, β4, which does not have a clear mammalian ortholog. Similar to mammalian GABAA receptors, the zebrafish α subfamily is the largest and most diverse of the subfamilies. In zebrafish there are eight α subunits, and RNA in situ hybridization across early zebrafish development revealed that they demonstrate distinct patterns of expression in the brain, spinal cord, and retina. Some subunits were very broadly distributed, whereas others were restricted to small populations of cells. Subunit-specific expression patterns in zebrafish resembled were those found in frogs and rodents, which suggests that the roles of different GABAA receptor isoforms are largely conserved among vertebrates. This study provides a platform to examine isoform specific roles of GABAA receptors within zebrafish neural circuits and it highlights the potential of this system to better understand the remarkable heterogeneity of GABAA receptors.

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