The 'ABC' of GABA receptors: a brief review

Clin Exp Pharmacol Physiol. 1999 Nov;26(11):937-40. doi: 10.1046/j.1440-1681.1999.03151.x.


1. In the mammalian central nervous system, GABA is the main inhibitory neurotransmitter. GABA is a highly flexible molecule and, thus, can exist in many low-energy conformations. Conformationally restricted analogues of GABA have been used to help identify three major GABA receptors, termed GABAA, GABAB and GABAC receptors. 2. GABAA and GABAC receptors are members of a super-family of transmitter-gated ion channels that include nicotinic acetylcholine, strychnine-sensitive glycine and 5HT3 receptors. GABAA receptors are hetero-oligomeric Cl- channels that are selectively blocked by the alkaloid bicuculline and modulated by steroids, barbiturates and benzodiazepines. To date, 16 human GABAA receptor cDNA have been cloned. 3. GABAB receptors are seven transmembrane receptors that are coupled to G-proteins and activate second messenger systems and Ca2+ and K+ ion channels. To date, three GABAB receptor proteins have been cloned and these resemble metabotropic glutamate receptors. GABAB receptors are hetero-oligomeric receptors made up of a mixture of a combination of the subunits. These receptors are selectively activated by (-)-baclofen and CCGP27492 and are blocked by phaclofen, the phosphonic acid analogue of baclofen. 4. In contrast, GABAC receptors represent a relatively simple form of transmitter-gated Cl- channel made up of a single type of protein subunit. Two human GABAC receptor cDNA have been cloned. These receptors are not blocked by bicuculline nor are they modulated by steroids, barbiturates or benzodiazepines. Instead, GABAC receptors are selectively activated by the conformationally restricted analogues of GABA in the folded conformation cis-4-aminocrotonic acid and (1s,2R)-2-(aminomethyl)-1-carboxycyclopropane. (1,2,5,6-Tetrahydropyridine-4-yl)methylphosphinic acid, a methylphosphinic acid analogue of GABA in a partially folded conformation, is a selective antagonist at GABAC receptors.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Central Nervous System / physiology*
  • GABA Antagonists / pharmacology
  • Humans
  • Ion Channels / physiology*
  • Mammals
  • Molecular Conformation
  • Muscimol / pharmacology
  • Organophosphorus Compounds
  • Receptors, GABA / classification
  • Receptors, GABA / drug effects
  • Receptors, GABA / physiology*
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid / physiology*


  • GABA Antagonists
  • Ion Channels
  • Organophosphorus Compounds
  • Receptors, GABA
  • Muscimol
  • methylphosphonic acid
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid