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Slow phases of GABA(A) receptor desensitization: structural determinants and possible relevance for synaptic function.

Bianchi M.T., Macdonald R.L.

GABA(A) receptor fast desensitization is thought to shape the time course of individual IPSCs. Although GABA(A) receptors also exhibit slower phases of desensitization, the possible role of slow desensitization in modifying synaptic function is poorly understood. In transiently transfected human embryonic kidney (HEK293T) cells, rat alpha1beta3delta and alpha1beta3gamma2L GABA(A) receptors showed distinct desensitization patterns during long (28 s) concentration jumps using a saturating (1 mM) GABA concentration. alpha1beta3gamma2L receptors desensitized extensively (approximately 90%), with four phases (tau(1) approximately 20 ms, tau(2) approximately 400 ms, tau(3) approximately 2 s, tau(4) approximately 10 s), while alpha1beta3delta receptors desensitized slowly and less extensively (approximately 35 %), with one or two slow phases with time constants similar to tau(3) and tau(4) of alpha1beta3gamma2L receptors. To determine the structural basis of subunit-specific desensitization, delta-gamma2L chimera subunits were expressed with alpha1 and beta3 subunits. Replacing the entire N-terminus of the gamma2L subunit with delta subunit sequence did not alter the number of phases or the extent of desensitization. Although extension of delta subunit sequence into transmembrane domain 1 (TM1) abolished the fast and intermediate components of desensitization, the two slow phases still accounted for substantial current loss (approximately 65 %). However, when delta subunit sequence was extended through TM2, the extent of desensitization was significantly decreased and indistinguishable from that of alpha1beta3delta receptors. The importance of TM2 sequence was confirmed by introducing gamma2 subunit TM2 residues into the delta subunit, which significantly increased the extent of desensitization, without introducing either the fast or intermediate desensitization phases. However, introducing delta subunit TM2 sequence into the gamma2L subunit had minimal effect on the rates or extent of desensitization. The results suggest that distinct delta subunit structures are responsible for its unique desensitization properties: lack of fast and intermediate desensitization and small contribution of the slow phases of desensitization. Finally, to investigate the possible role of slow desensitization in synaptic function, we used a pulse train protocol. We observed inhibition of peak current amplitude that depended on the frequency and duration of GABA pulses for receptors exhibiting extensive desensitization, whether fast phases were present or not. The minimally desensitizing alpha1beta3delta receptor exhibited negligible inhibition during pulse trains. Because receptors that desensitized without the fast and intermediate phases showed pulse train inhibition, we concluded that receptors can accumulate in slowly equilibrating desensitized states during repetitive receptor activation. These results may indicate a previously unrecognized role for the slow phases of desensitization for synaptic function under conditions of repeated GABA(A) receptor activation.

J. Physiol. (Lond.) 544:3-18(2002) [PubMed] [Europe PMC]

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