Inhibitory transmission in locus coeruleus neurons expressing GABAA receptor epsilon subunit has a number of unique properties

J Neurophysiol. 2009 Oct;102(4):2312-25. doi: 10.1152/jn.00227.2009. Epub 2009 Jul 22.


Fast inhibitory synaptic transmission in the brain relies on ionotropic GABA(A) receptors (GABA(A)R). Eighteen genes code for GABA(A)R subunits, but little is known about the epsilon subunit. Our aim was to identify the synaptic transmission properties displayed by native receptors incorporating epsilon. Immunogold localization detected epsilon at synaptic sites on locus coeruleus (LC) neurons. In situ hybridization revealed prominent signals from epsilon, and mRNAs, some low beta1 and beta3 signals, and no gamma signal. Using in vivo extracellular and in vitro patch-clamp recordings in LC, we established that neuron firing rates, GABA-activated currents, and mIPSC charge were insensitive to the benzodiazepine flunitrazepam (FLU), in agreement with the characteristics of recombinant receptors including an epsilon subunit. Surprisingly, LC provided binding sites for benzodiazepines, and GABA-induced currents were potentiated by diazepam (DZP) in the micromolar range. A number of GABA(A)R ligands significantly potentiated GABA-induced currents, and zinc ions were only active at concentrations above 1 muM, further indicating that receptors were not composed of only alpha and beta subunits, but included an epsilon subunit. In contrast to recombinant receptors including an epsilon subunit, GABA(A)R in LC showed no agonist-independent opening. Finally, we determined that mIPSCs, as well as ensemble currents induced by ultra-fast GABA application, exhibited surprisingly slow rise times. Our work thus defines the signature of native GABA(A)R with a subunit composition including epsilon: differential sensitivity to FLU and DZP and slow rise time of currents. We further propose that alpha(3,) beta(1/3,) and epsilon subunits compose GABA(A)R in LC.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials / drug effects
  • Animals
  • In Vitro Techniques
  • Inhibitory Postsynaptic Potentials / drug effects
  • Kinetics
  • Locus Coeruleus / drug effects
  • Locus Coeruleus / physiology*
  • Male
  • Neural Inhibition / drug effects
  • Neural Inhibition / physiology*
  • Neurons / drug effects
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • RNA, Messenger / metabolism
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Rats, Wistar
  • Receptors, GABA-A / metabolism*
  • Synaptic Transmission / drug effects
  • Synaptic Transmission / physiology*
  • Xenopus
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid / metabolism


  • RNA, Messenger
  • Receptors, GABA-A
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid