Bicuculline and gabazine are allosteric inhibitors of channel opening of the GABA(A) receptor

Shinya Ueno, John Bracamontes, Chuck Zorumski, David S. Weiss, Joe Henry Steinbach

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

210 Scopus citations


Anesthetic drugs are known to interact with GABA(A) receptors, both to potentiate the effects of low concentrations of GABA and to directly gate open the ion channel in the absence of GABA; however, the site(s) involved in direct gating by these drugs is not known. We have studied the ability of alphaxalone (an anesthetic steroid) and pentobarbital (an anesthetic barbiturate) to directly activate recombinant GABA(A) receptors containing the α1, β2, and γ2L subunits. Steroid gating was not affected when either of two mutated β2 subunits [β2(Y157S) and β2(Y205S)] are incorporated into the receptors, although these subunits greatly reduce the affinity of GABA binding. These observations indicate that steroid binding and subsequent channel gating do not require these particular residues, as already shown for barbiturates. Bicuculline or gabazine (two competitive antagonists of GABA binding) reduced the currents elicited by alphaxalone and pentobarbital from wild-type GABA(A) receptors; however, gabazine produced only a partial block of responses to pentobarbital or alphaxalone, and bicuculline only partially blocked responses to pentobarbital. These observations indicate that the blockers do not compete with alphaxalone or pentobarbital for a single class of sites on the GABA(A) receptor. Finally, at receptors containing α1β2(Y157S)γ2L subunits, both bicuculline and gabazine showed weak agonist activity and actually potentiated responses to alphaxalone. These observations indicate that the blocking drugs can produce allosteric changes in GABA(A) receptors, at least those containing this mutated β2 subunit. We conclude that the sites for binding steroids and barbiturates do not overlap with the GABA-binding site. Furthermore, neither gabazine nor bicuculline competes for binding at the steroid or barbiturate sites. The data are consistent with a model in which both gabazine and bicuculline act as allosteric inhibitors of channel opening for the GABA(A) receptor after binding to the GABA-binding site.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)625-634
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1997
Externally publishedYes


  • GABA
  • GABA(A) receptor
  • allosteric inhibitor
  • anesthetics
  • bicuculline
  • inverse agonist
  • neurosteroids

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)


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