Microscopic kinetic determinants of macroscopic currents: insights from coupling and uncoupling of GABAA receptor desensitization and deactivation

J Physiol. 2007 Nov 1;584(Pt 3):769-87. doi: 10.1113/jphysiol.2007.142364. Epub 2007 Sep 20.


The time course of inhibitory postsynaptic currents (IPSCs) reflects GABA(A) receptor deactivation, the process of current relaxation following transient activation. Fast desensitization has been demonstrated to prolong deactivation, and these processes have been described as being 'coupled'. However, the relationship between desensitization and deactivation remains poorly understood. We investigated the 'uncoupling' of GABA(A) receptor macroscopic desensitization and deactivation using experimental conditions that affected these two processes differently. Changing agonist affinity preferentially altered deactivation, changing agonist concentration preferentially altered macroscopic desensitization, and a pore domain mutation prolonged deactivation despite blocking fast desensitization. To gain insight into the mechanistic basis for coupling and uncoupling, simulations were used to systematically evaluate the interplay between agonist affinity, gating efficacy, and desensitized state stability in shaping macroscopic desensitization and deactivation. We found that the influence of individual kinetic transitions on macroscopic currents depended not only on model connectivity, but also on the relationship among transitions within a given model. In addition, changing single rate constants differentially affected macroscopic desensitization and deactivation, thus providing parsimonious kinetic explanations for experimentally observed uncoupling. Finally, these findings permitted development of an algorithmic framework for kinetic interpretation of experimental manipulations that alter macroscopic current properties.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Biological
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Electrophysiology*
  • GABA Agonists / pharmacology
  • GABA-A Receptor Agonists
  • Humans
  • Ion Channel Gating
  • Kinetics
  • Mutation
  • Protein Binding
  • Protein Subunits
  • Receptors, GABA-A / genetics
  • Receptors, GABA-A / metabolism*


  • GABA Agonists
  • GABA-A Receptor Agonists
  • Protein Subunits
  • Receptors, GABA-A