GABA(A) receptor subtypes as targets for neuropsychiatric drug development

Pharmacol Ther. 2006 Jan;109(1-2):12-32. doi: 10.1016/j.pharmthera.2005.05.009. Epub 2005 Jul 5.


The main inhibitory neurotransmitter system in the brain, the gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) system, is the target for many clinically used drugs to treat, for example, anxiety disorders and epilepsy and to induce sedation and anesthesia. These drugs facilitate the function of pentameric A-type GABA (GABA(A)) receptors that are extremely widespread in the brain and composed from the repertoire of 19 subunit variants. Modern genetic studies have found associations of various subunit gene polymorphisms with neuropsychiatric disorders, including alcoholism, schizophrenia, anxiety, and bipolar affective disorder, but these studies are still at their early phase because they still have failed to lead to validated drug development targets. Recent neurobiological studies on new animal models and receptor subunit mutations have revealed novel aspects of the GABA(A) receptors, which might allow selective targeting of the drug action in receptor subtype-selective fashion, either on the synaptic or extrasynaptic receptor populations. More precisely, the greatest advances have occurred in the clarification of the molecular and behavioral mechanisms of action of the GABA(A) receptor agonists already in the clinical use, such as benzodiazepines and anesthetics, rather than in the introduction of novel compounds to clinical practice. It is likely that these new developments will help to overcome the present problems of the chronic treatment with nonselective GABA(A) agonists, that is, the development of tolerance and dependence, and to focus the drug action on the neurobiologically and neuropathologically relevant substrates.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Mental Disorders / drug therapy*
  • Mental Disorders / genetics
  • Psychotropic Drugs / pharmacology*
  • Psychotropic Drugs / therapeutic use
  • Receptors, GABA-A / drug effects*
  • Receptors, GABA-A / genetics


  • Psychotropic Drugs
  • Receptors, GABA-A