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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2006 Oct 10;103(41):15230-5. Epub 2006 Sep 27.

GABAA receptor alpha 4 subunits mediate extrasynaptic inhibition in thalamus and dentate gyrus and the action of gaboxadol.

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  • 1Department of Anesthesiology, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA 15261, USA.


The neurotransmitter GABA mediates the majority of rapid inhibition in the CNS. Inhibition can occur via the conventional mechanism, the transient activation of subsynaptic GABAA receptors (GABAA-Rs), or via continuous activation of high-affinity receptors by low concentrations of ambient GABA, leading to "tonic" inhibition that can control levels of excitability and network activity. The GABAA-R alpha4 subunit is expressed at high levels in the dentate gyrus and thalamus and is suspected to contribute to extrasynaptic GABAA-R-mediated tonic inhibition. Mice were engineered to lack the alpha4 subunit by targeted disruption of the Gabra4 gene. alpha4 Subunit knockout mice are viable, breed normally, and are superficially indistinguishable from WT mice. In electrophysiological recordings, these mice show a lack of tonic inhibition in dentate granule cells and thalamic relay neurons. Behaviorally, knockout mice are insensitive to the ataxic, sedative, and analgesic effects of the novel hypnotic drug, gaboxadol. These data demonstrate that tonic inhibition in dentate granule cells and thalamic relay neurons is mediated by extrasynaptic GABAA-Rs containing the alpha4 subunit and that gaboxadol achieves its effects via the activation of this GABAA-R subtype.

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