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Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 1997 May;21(3):444-51.

Ethanol, flunitrazepam, and pentobarbital modulation of GABAA receptors expressed in mammalian cells and Xenopus oocytes.

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Denver Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Colorado, USA.


GABAA receptors composed of human alpha 1 beta 2 gamma 2L, alpha 1 beta 2 gamma 2S, alpha 1 beta 3 gamma 2S, alpha 6 beta 3 gamma 2S, and alpha 5 beta 3 gamma 3 subunits as well as bovine alpha 1 beta 1 gamma 2L and alpha 1 beta 1 subunits were stably expressed in mammalian L(tk-) cells and transiently expressed in Xenopus oocytes. Effects of muscimol, ethanol, flunitrazepam, and pentobarbital on receptor function were compared for the two expression systems using a 36Cl- flux assay for cells and an electrophysiological assay for oocytes. Muscimol activated all receptors in both expression systems but was more potent for L(tk-) cells than oocytes; this difference ranged from 2.6-to 26-fold, depending upon subunit composition. The most pronounced differences between receptors and expression systems were found for ethanol. In L(tk-) cells, low (5-50 mM) concentrations of ethanol potentiated muscimol responses only with receptors containing the gamma 2L subunit. In oocytes, concentrations of 30-100 mM produced small enhancements for most subunit combinations. Flunitrazepam enhanced muscimol responses for all receptors except alpha 6 beta 3 gamma 2S and alpha 1 beta 1, and this enhancement was similar for both expression systems. Pentobarbital also enhanced muscimol responses for all receptors, and this enhancement was similar for L(tk-) cells and oocytes, except for alpha 6 beta 3 gamma 2S where the pentobarbital enhancement was much greater in oocytes than cells. The alpha 6 beta 3 gamma 2S receptors were also distinct in that pentobarbital produced direct activation of chloride channels in both expression systems. Thus, the type of expression/assay system markedly affects the actions of ethanol on GABAA receptors and also influences the actions of muscimol and pentobarbital on this receptor. Differences between these expression systems may reflect posttranslational modifications of receptor subunits.

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