The expression of alpha and beta gamma-aminobutyric acid type A receptor subunits produces GABA-gated channels which require the incorporation of either the gamma2 or gamma3 subunit for benzodiazepine modulation. Here we examine the role of the gamma2 subunit splice variants, gamma2S and gamma2L which differ by eight amino acids in the major intracellular domain, in mediating cell surface expression. Using immunocytochemistry we have demonstrated that when expressed alone, the gamma2S subunit can access the cell surface and internalize constitutively. In contrast, alpha1, beta2 and gamma2L are retained predominantly in the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) when expressed alone. Replacing the insert which differentiates gamma2L from gamma2S (LLRMFSFK) with eight alanines produces a phenotype identical to gamma2S. Both gamma2 subunits fail to produce high molecular weight oligomers observed for alpha1beta2 and alpha1beta2gamma2 heterooligomers and do not form functional ion channels. Surface expression of gamma2S is repressed upon the coexpression of alpha1 or beta2 subunits, resulting in ER-retained heterooligomers, suggesting that homomeric gamma2S is unlikely to occur in vivo. However, its independent maturation to surface competence and preferential assembly with alpha and beta subunits may ensure the production of functional benzodiazepine-sensitive receptors. Furthermore, the presence of the gamma2 subunit appears to confer an endocytotic capacity to these heterooligomeric receptors.
Copyright 1999 Academic Press.