Etomidate, propofol and the neurosteroid THDOC increase the GABA efficacy of recombinant alpha4beta3delta and alpha4beta3 GABA A receptors expressed in HEK cells.

PMID 18778723


General anesthetics, once thought to exert their effects through non-specific membrane effects, have highly specific ion channel targets that can silence neuronal populations in the nervous system, thereby causing unconsciousness and immobility, characteristic of general anesthesia. Inhibitory GABA(A) receptors (GABA(A)Rs), particularly highly GABA-sensitive extrasynaptic receptor subtypes that give rise to sustained inhibitory currents, are uniquely sensitive to GABA(A)R-active anesthetics. A prominent population of extrasynaptic GABA(A)Rs is made up of alpha4, beta2 or beta3, and delta subunits. Considering the demonstrated importance of GABA receptor beta3 subunits for in vivo anesthetic effects of etomidate and propofol, we decided to investigate the effects of GABA anesthetics on "extrasynaptic" alpha4beta3delta and also binary alpha4beta3 receptors expressed in human embryonic kidney (HEK) cells. Consistent with previous work on similar receptor subtypes we show that maximal GABA currents through "extrasynaptic" alpha4beta3delta receptors, receptors defined by sensitivity to EtOH (30mM) and the beta-carboline beta-CCE (1microM), are enhanced by the GABA(A)R-active anesthetics etomidate, propofol, and the neurosteroid anesthetic THDOC. Furthermore, we show that receptors formed by alpha4beta3 subunits alone also show high GABA sensitivity and that saturating GABA responses of alpha4beta3 receptors are increased to the same extent by etomidate, propofol, and THDOC as are alpha4beta3delta receptors. Therefore, both alpha4beta3 and alpha4beta3delta receptors show low GABA efficacy, and GABA is also a partial agonist on certain binary alphabeta receptor subtypes. Increasing GABA efficacy on alpha4/6beta3delta and alpha4beta3 receptors is likely to make an important contribution to the anesthetic effects of etomidate, propofol and the neurosteroid THDOC.

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3α,21-Dihydroxy-5α-pregnan-20-one, ≥95%