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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1980 Dec;77(12):7468-72.

Barbiturate receptor sites are coupled to benzodiazepine receptors.


Barbiturates enhance the binding of [3H]diazepam to benzodiazepine receptor sites in rat brain. This effect occurs at pharmacologically relevant concentrations of barbiturates, and the relative activity of a series of compounds correlates highly with anesthetic activity of the barbiturates and with their ability to enhance postsynaptic inhibitory responses to the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid. Barbiturate enhancement of benzodiazepine binding is stereospecific, with the more active anesthetic isomers of N1-methylbarbiturates being also more active than their stereoisomers in enhancing benzodiazepine binding. The active barbiturates produce a reversible enhancement in the affinity of specific benzodiazepine binding with no effect on the number of binding sites. The barbiturate enhancement, but not the baseline benzodiazepine binding, is competitively inhibited by the convulsant picrotoxinin (at 1-10 microM), a drug that has been shown to label barbiturate-sensitive brain membrane sites related to the gamma-aminobutyric acid receptor-ionophore complex. The barbiturate effect is also dependent upon the presence of certain anions, and only those anions, that penetrate the chloride channels regulated by gamma-aminobutyric acid receptors. These results suggest that picrotoxin-sensitive barbiturate binding sites are coupled to benzodiazepine receptors in the gamma-aminobutyric acid receptor-ionophore complex, and that these binding sites have the properties of pharmacologically relevant receptors that mediate at least part of the action of various nervous system depressant and excitatory drugs.

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