Molecular and functional diversity of the expanding GABA-A receptor gene family

Ann N Y Acad Sci. 1999 Apr 30:868:645-53. doi: 10.1111/j.1749-6632.1999.tb11341.x.


Fast inhibitory neurotransmission in the mammalian CNS is mediated primarily by the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which, upon binding to its receptor, leads to opening of the intrinsic ion channel, allowing chloride to enter the cell. Over the past 10 years it has become clear that a family of GABA-A receptor subtypes exists, generated through the coassembly of polypeptides selected from alpha 1-alpha 6, beta 1-beta 3, gamma 1-gamma 3, delta, epsilon, and pie to form what is most likely a pentomeric macromolecule. The gene transcripts, and indeed the polypeptides, show distinct patterns of temporal and spatial expression, such that the GABA-A receptor subtypes have a defined localization that presumably reflects their physiological role. A picture is beginning to emerge of the properties conferred to receptor subtypes by the different subunits; these include different functional properties, differential modulation by protein kinases, and the targeting to different membrane compartments. These properties presumably underlie the different physiological roles of the various receptor subtypes. Recently we have identified a further member of the GABA-A receptor gene family, which we have termed theta, which appears to be most closely related to the beta subunits. The structure, function, and distribution of theta-containing receptors, and receptors containing the recently reported epsilon subunit, are described.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Benzodiazepines / metabolism
  • Binding Sites
  • Chromosomes, Human / genetics
  • Conserved Sequence
  • Humans
  • Ion Channel Gating
  • Models, Molecular
  • Picrotoxin / metabolism
  • Receptors, GABA-A / chemistry
  • Receptors, GABA-A / classification
  • Receptors, GABA-A / genetics*
  • Sequence Homology, Amino Acid
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid / metabolism


  • Receptors, GABA-A
  • Picrotoxin
  • Benzodiazepines
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid