Examination of volatile anesthetic actions at single synapses provides more direct information by reducing interference by surrounding tissue and extrasynaptic modulation. We examined how volatile anesthetics modulate GABA release by measuring spontaneous or miniature GABA-induced inhibitory postsynaptic currents (mIPSCs, sIPSCs) or by measuring action potential-evoked IPSCs (eIPSCs) at individual synapses. Halothane increased both the amplitude and frequency of sIPSCs. Isoflurane and enflurane increased mIPSC frequency while sevoflurane had no effect. These anesthetics did not alter mIPSC amplitudes. Halothane increased the amplitude of eIPSCs, with a decrease in failure rate (Rf) and paired-pulse ratio. In contrast, isoflurane and enflurane decreased the eIPSC amplitude and increased Rf, while sevoflurane decreased the eIPSC amplitude without affecting Rf. Volatile anesthetics did not change kinetics except for sevoflurane, suggesting that presynaptic mechanisms dominate changes in neurotransmission. Each anesthetic showed somewhat different GABA-induced response and these results suggest that GABA-induced synaptic transmission cannot have a uniformly common site of action as suggested for volatile anesthetics. In contrast, all volatile anesthetics concentration-dependently enhanced the GABA-induced extrasynaptic currents. Extrasynaptic receptors containing α4 and α5 subunits are reported to have high sensitivities to volatile anesthetics. Also, inhibition of GABA uptake by volatile anesthetics results in higher extracellular GABA concentration, which may lead to prolonged activation of extrasynaptic GABAA receptors. The extrasynaptic GABA-induced receptors may be major site of volatile anesthetic-induced neurotransmission. This article is part of a Special Issue entitled 'Extrasynaptic ionotropic receptors'.
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