Structural difference between heteromeric somatic and homomeric axonal glycine receptors in the hypothalamo-neurohypophysial system

Neuroscience. 2005;135(2):475-83. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroscience.2005.05.024.


Glycine receptors are ionotropic receptors formed by either the homomeric assembly of ligand-binding alpha subunits or the heteromeric combination of an alpha subunit and the auxiliary beta subunit. Glycine receptors in the brain are found at either pre- or post-synaptic sites. Rat supraoptic nucleus neurons express glycine receptors on the membrane of both their soma and dendrites within the supraoptic nucleus, and their axon terminals in the neurohypophysis. Taking advantage of the well-separated cellular compartments of this system, we correlated the structural properties of the receptors to their subcellular localization. Immunohistochemical study using the generic mAb4a antibody revealed that somatodendritic receptors were clustered, whereas axonal glycine receptors showed a more diffuse distribution. This was paralleled by the presence of clusters of the glycine receptor aggregating protein gephyrin in the supraoptic nucleus and its complete absence in the neurohypophysis. Moreover, another antibody recognizing the alpha1/alpha2 subunits similarly labeled the axonal glycine receptors, but did not recognize the somatodendritic receptor clusters of supraoptic nucleus neurons, indicative of structural differences between somatic and axonal glycine receptors. Furthermore, the subunits composing the somatic and axonal receptors have different molecular weight. Functional study further differentiated the two types of glycine receptors on the basis of their sensitivity to picrotoxin, identifying somatic receptors as alpha/beta heteromers, and axonal receptors as alpha homomers. These results indicate that targeting of glycine receptors to axonal or somatodendritic compartment is directly related to their subunit composition, and set the hypothalamo-neurohypophysial system as an excellent model to study the mechanisms of targeting of proteins to various neuronal cellular compartments.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Blotting, Western / methods
  • Calcium / metabolism
  • Carrier Proteins / genetics
  • Carrier Proteins / metabolism
  • Dendrites / metabolism*
  • Drug Interactions
  • Electric Stimulation / methods
  • Gene Expression Regulation / physiology
  • Glycine / pharmacology
  • Glycine Agents / pharmacology
  • Hypothalamo-Hypophyseal System / cytology*
  • Immunohistochemistry / methods
  • Membrane Potentials / drug effects
  • Membrane Potentials / physiology
  • Membrane Proteins / genetics
  • Membrane Proteins / metabolism
  • Neurons / cytology*
  • Neurons / metabolism
  • Patch-Clamp Techniques / methods
  • Potassium Chloride / pharmacology
  • Presynaptic Terminals / metabolism*
  • RNA, Messenger / biosynthesis
  • Rats
  • Receptors, Glycine / chemistry
  • Receptors, Glycine / metabolism*
  • Reverse Transcriptase Polymerase Chain Reaction / methods
  • Strychnine / pharmacology
  • Supraoptic Nucleus / cytology*


  • Carrier Proteins
  • Glycine Agents
  • Membrane Proteins
  • RNA, Messenger
  • Receptors, Glycine
  • gephyrin
  • Potassium Chloride
  • Strychnine
  • Calcium
  • Glycine