Comparative modeling of a GABAA alpha1 receptor using three crystal structures as templates

J Mol Graph Model. 2004 Sep;23(1):39-49. doi: 10.1016/j.jmgm.2004.03.004.


We built a model of a GABAA alpha1 receptor (GABAAR) that combines the ligand binding (LBD) and the transmembrane domains (TMD). We used six steps: (1) a four-alpha helical bundle in the crystal structure of bovine cytochrome c oxidase (2OCC) was identified as a template for the TMD of a single subunit. (2) The five pore-forming alpha helices of a bacterial mechanosensitive channel (1MSL) served as a template for the pentameric ion channel. (3) Five copies of the tetrameric template from 2OCC were superimposed on 1MSL to produce a homopentamer containing 20 alpha helices arranged around a funnel-shaped central pore. (4) Five copies of the GABAAR sequence were threaded onto the alpha-helical segments of this template and inter-helical loops were generated to produce the TMD model. (5) A model of the LBD was built by threading the aligned sequence of GABAAR onto the crystal structure of the acetylcholine binding protein (1I9B). (6) The models of the LBD and the TMD were aligned along a common five-fold axis, moved together along that axis until in vdW contact, merged, and then optimized with restrained molecular dynamics. Our model corresponds closely with recently published coordinates of the acetylcholine receptor (1OED) but also explains additional features. Our model reveals structures of loops that were not visible in the cryoelectron micrograph and satisfies most labeling and mutagenesis data. It also suggests mechanisms for ligand binding transduction, ion selectivity, and anesthetic binding.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Binding Sites
  • Cattle
  • Ion Channels / chemistry
  • Models, Molecular
  • Protein Binding
  • Protein Isoforms / chemistry
  • Protein Structure, Secondary*
  • Protein Structure, Tertiary*
  • Receptors, GABA-A / chemistry*


  • Ion Channels
  • Protein Isoforms
  • Receptors, GABA-A