Structure and subunit composition of GABA(A) receptors

Neurochem Int. 1999 May;34(5):379-85. doi: 10.1016/s0197-0186(99)00045-5.


GABA(A) receptors are the major inhibitory neurotransmitter receptors in the brain and are the site of action of many clinically important drugs. These receptors are composed of five subunits that can belong to eight different subunit classes. If all GABA(A) receptor subunits could randomly combine with each other, an extremely large number of GABA(A) receptor subtypes with distinct subunit composition and arrangement would be formed. Depending on their subunit composition, these receptors would exhibit distinct pharmacological and electrophysiological properties. Recent evidence, however, indicates that not all subunits can assemble efficiently with each other and form functional homo- or hetero-oligomeric receptors. In addition, the efficiency of formation of hetero-oligomeric assembly intermediates determines the subunit stoichiometry and subunit arrangement for each receptor and thus further reduces the possible heterogeneity of GABA(A) receptors in the brain. Studies investigating the subunit composition of native GABA(A) receptors support this conclusion, but also indicate that receptors composed of one, two, three, four, or five different subunits might exist in the brain. Using a recently established immunodepletion technique, the subunit composition and quantitative importance of native GABA(A) receptor subtypes can be determined. This information, together with studies on the regional, cellular and subcellular distribution of these receptor subtypes, will be the basis for a rational development of drugs that specifically affect the GABAergic system.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain Chemistry
  • Humans
  • Macromolecular Substances
  • Receptors, GABA-A / chemistry*
  • Receptors, GABA-A / physiology
  • Recombinant Proteins
  • Structure-Activity Relationship


  • Macromolecular Substances
  • Receptors, GABA-A
  • Recombinant Proteins