Dual modulation of the γ-aminobutyric acid type A receptor/ionophore by alkyl-substituted γ-butyrolactones

K. D. Holland, G. C. Mathews, A. M. Bolos-Sy, J. B. Tucker, P. A. Reddy, D. F. Covey, J. A. Ferrendelli, S. M. Rothman

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28 Scopus citations


Alkyl-substituted γ-butyrolactones (GBLs) and γ-thiobutyrolactones exhibit convulsant or anticonvulsant activity, depending on the alkyl substituents. α-Substituted lactones with small alkyl substituents are anticonvulsant and potentiate γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA)-mediated chloride currents, whereas β-substituted compounds are usually convulsant and block GABA(A) currents. We have now found that this distinction is not so clear- cut, in that some compounds can both block and augment GABA(A) currents, but with different time courses. For example, α,α-diisopropyl-GBL (α-DIGBL) potentiates exogenous GABA currents in cultured rat hippocampal neurons but diminishes GABA-mediated inhibitory postsynaptic currents. A more detailed analysis demonstrates a triphasic effect of α-DIGBL on GABA currents, with a rapid inhibitory phase, a slower potentiating phase, and then an 'off response' when the GABA/α-DIGBL perfusion is stopped. Thus, α-DIGBL can inhibit and potentiate GABA currents with kinetically different time courses. Inhibition is more rapid, but at steady state potentiation dominates. Using a simplified model of the GABA(A) receptor/ionophore, we have simulated our experimental observations with α-DIGBL. Another lactone, β-ethyl-β- methyl-γ-thiobutyrolactone, also has dual actions, with inhibition predominating at low concentrations and potentiation predominating at high concentrations. We propose two distinct GBL modulatory sites on the GABA(A) receptor, i.e., an inhibitory 'picrotoxin' site and an enhancing 'lactone site.' New information on the structure of the GABA(A) receptor/ionophore may allow the molecular dissection of these two sites.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1217-1223
Number of pages7
JournalMolecular pharmacology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 1995


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