In the present study we characterized the effects of the South American neurotoxin tutin on recombinant glycine receptors (GlyR) expressed in HEK 293 cells using whole-cell patch-clamp techniques. Tutin induced a concentration-dependent inhibition of α(1) and α(2) homomeric GlyRs, with IC(50)s of 35 ± 1 and 15 ± 3 μM, respectively. The co-expression of αβ subunits reduced the potency of tutin, thus increasing the IC(50) to 51 ± 4 and 41 ± 8 μM for α(1)β and α(2)β GlyRs, respectively. The inhibitory effect of tutin was competitive, independent of membrane potential and reversible suggesting a pore independent site. On the other hand, low tutin concentrations enhanced the current, which was not synergic with Zn(2+) or ethanol. A mutation in Lys385 altered ethanol but not tutin sensitivity, suggesting different sites for modulation of α1-containing GlyRs. Our results suggest that tutin affects the GlyR by a mechanism distinct to that of picrotoxin and ethanol, and that the pharmacological profile of tutin exhibits a "Zn-like" behaviour. In conclusion, these results provide information on molecular mechanisms important for understanding the toxic effects of a recently discovered South American neurotoxin.
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