γ-aminobutyric acid type A α4, β2, and δ subunits assemble to produce more than one functionally distinct receptor type

Megan M. Eaton, John Bracamontes, Hong Jin Shu, Ping Li, Steven Mennerick, Joe Henry Steinbach, Gustav Akk

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

34 Scopus citations


Native γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA)A receptors consisting of α4, β1-3, and d subunits mediate responses to the low, tonic concentration of GABA present in the extracellular milieu. Previous studies on heterologously expressed α4βδ receptors have shown a large degree of variability in functional properties, including sensitivity to the transmitter. We studied properties of α4β2δ receptors employing free subunits and concatemeric constructs, expressed in Xenopus oocytes, HEK 293 cells, and cultured hippocampal neurons. The expression system had a strong effect on the properties of receptors containing free subunits. The midpoint of GABA activation curve was 10 nM for receptors in oocytes versus 2300 nM in HEK cells. Receptors activated by the steroid alfaxalone had an estimated maximal open probability of 0.6 in oocytes and 0.01 in HEK cells. Irrespective of the expression system, receptors resulting from combining the tandem construct β2-δ and a free α4 subunit exhibited large steroid responses. We propose that free α4, β2, and δ subunits assemble in different configurations with distinct properties in oocytes and HEK cells, and that subunit linkage can overcome the expression system-dependent preferential assembly of free subunits. Hippocampal neurons transfected with α4 and the picrotoxin-resistant δ(T269Y) subunit showed large responses to alfaxalone in the presence of picrotoxin, suggesting that α4βδ receptors may assemble in a similar configuration in neurons and oocytes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)647-656
Number of pages10
JournalMolecular pharmacology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 1 2014


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