GABAA receptors are modulated by a large variety of compounds. A common chemical characteristic of most of these modulators is that they contain a cyclic entity. Three linear molecules of a polyacetylene structure were isolated from the East African medicinal plant Cussonia zimmermannii Harms and shown to allosterically stimulate GABAA receptors. Stimulation was not abolished by the absence of the gamma2 subunit, the benzodiazepine antagonist Ro15-1788 (8-fluoro-5,6-dihydro-5-methyl-6-oxo-4H-imidazo[1,5-a][1,4]benzodiazepine-3-carboxylic acid ethyl ester), or the point mutation beta2N265S that abolishes effects by loreclezole. At a concentration of 30 microM, the substances by themselves elicited only tiny currents. Maximal stimulation at alpha1beta2gamma2 amounted to 110 to 450% for the three substances, and half-maximal stimulation was observed at concentrations of 1 to 2 muM. Stimulation was subunit composition-dependent and was for the substance MS-1, alpha1beta2gamma2 approximately alpha1beta2 approximately alpha3beta2gamma2 > alpha2beta2gamma2 > alpha5beta2gamma2 approximately alpha1beta3gamma2 approximately alpha6beta2gamma2 > alpha1beta1gamma2, for MS-2 alpha1beta2gamma2 approximately alpha3beta2gamma2 approximately alpha1beta2 > alpha2beta2gamma2 approximately alpha6beta2gamma2 approximately alpha5beta2gamma2 > alpha1beta1gamma2, and for MS-4, alpha1beta2gamma2 approximately alpha1beta2 approximately alpha5beta2gamma2 approximately alpha3beta2gamma2 approximately alpha2beta2gamma2 > alpha6beta2gamma2 >> alpha1beta1gamma2. Maximal stimulation by MS-1 was 450% at alpha1beta2gamma2, 80% at alpha1beta1gamma2, and 150% at alpha1beta3gamma2. MS-1 was thus specific for receptors containing the beta2 subunit. The reversal potential was unaffected by 10 microM MS-1, whereas apparent picrotoxin affinity for current inhibition was increased approximately 3-fold. In summary, these positive allosteric modulators of GABAA receptors of plant origin have a novel unusual chemical structure and act at a site independent of that of benzodiazepines and loreclezole.