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Fast inhibition in the nervous system is commonly mediated by GABA(A) receptors comprised of 2alpha/2beta/1gamma subunits. In contrast, GABA(C) receptors containing only rho subunits (rho1-rho3) have been predominantly detected in the retina. However, here using reverse transcription-PCR and in situ hybridization we show that mRNA encoding the rho1 subunit is highly expressed in brainstem neurons. Immunohistochemistry localized the rho1 subunit to neurons at light and electron microscopic levels, where it was detected at synaptic junctions. Application of the GABA(C) receptor agonist cis-4-aminocrotonic acid (100-800 microM) requires the rho1 subunit to elicit responses, which surprisingly are blocked independently by antagonists to GABA(A) (bicuculline, 10 microM) and GABA(C) [(1,2,5,6-tetrahydropyridin-4-yl)methylphosphinic acid (TPMPA); 40-160 microM] receptors. Responses to GABA(C) agonists were also enhanced by the GABA(A) receptor modulator pentobarbitone (300 microM). Spontaneous and evoked IPSPs were reduced in amplitude but never abolished by TPMPA, but were completely blocked by bicuculline. We therefore tested the hypothesis that GABA(A) and GABA(C) subunits formed a heteromeric receptor. Immunohistochemistry indicated that rho1 and alpha1 subunits were colocalized at light and electron microscopic levels. Electrophysiology revealed that responses to GABA(C) receptor agonists were enhanced by the GABA(A) receptor modulator zolpidem (500 nm), which acts on the alpha1 subunit when the gamma2 subunit is also present. Finally, coimmunoprecipitation indicated that the rho1 subunit formed complexes that also containedalpha1 and gamma2 subunits. Taken together these separate lines of evidence suggest that the effects of GABA in central neurons can be mediated by heteromeric complexes of GABA(A) and GABA(C) receptor subunits.

Original publication




Journal article


J Neurosci

Publication Date





7241 - 7250


Animals, Brain Stem, Evoked Potentials, GABA Agonists, Male, Neural Inhibition, Neurons, Patch-Clamp Techniques, Protein Subunits, Rats, Rats, Wistar, Receptors, GABA, Receptors, GABA-A, Receptors, GABA-B, Synapses