Ectopic expression of the GABA(A) receptor alpha6 subunit in hippocampal pyramidal neurons produces extrasynaptic receptors and an increased tonic inhibition

Neuropharmacology. 2002 Sep;43(4):530-49. doi: 10.1016/s0028-3908(02)00151-x.


We generated transgenic (Thy1alpha6) mice in which the GABA(A) receptor alpha6 subunit, whose expression is usually confined to granule cells of cerebellum and cochlear nuclei, is ectopically expressed under the control of the pan-neuronal Thy-1.2 promoter. Strong Thy1alpha6 subunit expression occurs, for example, in deep cerebellar nuclei, layer V iscocortical and hippocampal pyramidal cells and dentate granule cells. Ligand binding and protein biochemistry show that most forebrain alpha6 subunits assemble as alpha6betagamma2-type receptors, and some as alpha1alpha6betagamma2 and alpha3alpha6betagamma2 receptors. Electron microscopic immunogold labeling shows that most Thy1-derived alpha6 immunoreactivity is in the extrasynaptic plasma membrane of dendrites and spines in both layer V isocortical and CA1pyramidal cells. Synaptic immunolabeling is rare. Consistent with the alpha6 subunits' extrasynaptic localization, Thy1alpha6 CA1 pyramidal neurons have a five-fold increased tonic GABA(A) receptor-mediated current compared with wild-type cells; however, the spontaneous IPSC frequency and the mIPSC amplitude in Thy1alpha6 mice decrease 37 and 30%, respectively compared with wild-type. Our results strengthen the idea that GABA(A) receptors containing alpha6 subunits can function as extrasynaptic receptors responsible for tonic inhibition and further suggest that a homeostatic mechanism might operate, whereby increased tonic inhibition causes a compensatory decrease in synaptic GABA(A) receptor responses.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials / physiology
  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Animals
  • Autoradiography
  • Electrophysiology
  • Fluorescent Dyes
  • Freezing
  • Hippocampus / cytology
  • Hippocampus / metabolism*
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • In Situ Hybridization
  • Ligands
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Microscopy, Electron
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Prosencephalon / metabolism
  • Pyramidal Cells / metabolism*
  • Receptors, GABA-A / biosynthesis*
  • Subcellular Fractions / metabolism
  • Synapses / drug effects
  • Tissue Embedding


  • Fluorescent Dyes
  • Gabra6 protein, mouse
  • Ligands
  • Receptors, GABA-A