Tonic for what ails us? high-affinity GABAA receptors and alcohol

Alcohol. 2007 May;41(3):139-43. doi: 10.1016/j.alcohol.2007.03.008. Epub 2007 May 23.


Ethanol interactions with gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), the major inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain, play key roles in acute intoxication. However, the exact mechanisms of these ethanol interactions have been the subject of considerable confusion and controversy. Many studies suggest that ethanol potentiates the function of the type A GABA receptor (GABAA-R). However, these findings have not been consistently replicated in experiments that directly examined the effects of ethanol on GABAA-R-mediated ion current. Differences in ethanol sensitivity of different GABAA-R subtypes have been invoked as a potential explanation for the inconsistent findings, and recent work suggests that GABAA-Rs that contain the delta subunit and/or mediate tonic extrasynaptic GABA responses may be especially ethanol sensitive. However, considerable disagreement has arisen over these findings. This special issue of Alcohol contains articles from eight research groups that are examining this issue. The authors present their work, their views on the present state of this area of alcohol research, and their ideas about how to proceed with future studies that may help to address the present confusion and controversy. This editorial provides an introduction to this line of research and the current findings and controversies.

Publication types

  • Editorial
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Alcoholic Intoxication / physiopathology
  • Alcoholic Intoxication / psychology
  • Animals
  • Central Nervous System Depressants / pharmacology*
  • Ethanol / pharmacology*
  • Humans
  • Receptors, GABA-A / drug effects
  • Receptors, GABA-A / metabolism*


  • Central Nervous System Depressants
  • Receptors, GABA-A
  • Ethanol