Advantages of an antagonist: bicuculline and other GABA antagonists

Br J Pharmacol. 2013 May;169(2):328-36. doi: 10.1111/bph.12127.


The convulsant alkaloid bicuculline continues to be investigated more than 40 years after the first publication of its action as an antagonist of receptors for the inhibitory neurotransmitter GABA. This historical perspective highlights key aspects of the discovery of bicuculline as a GABA antagonist and the sustained interest in this and other GABA antagonists. The exciting advances in the molecular biology, pharmacology and physiology of GABA receptors provide a continuing stimulus for the discovery of new antagonists with increasing selectivity for the myriad of GABA receptor subclasses. Interesting GABA antagonists not structurally related to bicuculline include gabazine, salicylidene salicylhydrazide, RU5135 and 4-(3-biphenyl-5-(4-piperidyl)-3-isoxazole. Bicuculline became the benchmark antagonist for what became known as GABAA receptors, but not all ionotropic GABA receptors are susceptible to bicuculline. In addition, not all GABAA receptor antagonists are convulsants. Thus there are still surprises in store as the study of GABA receptors evolves.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bicuculline / pharmacology*
  • Convulsants / pharmacology*
  • Drug Design
  • GABA Antagonists / chemistry
  • GABA Antagonists / pharmacology
  • GABA-A Receptor Antagonists / chemistry
  • GABA-A Receptor Antagonists / pharmacology*
  • Humans
  • Molecular Biology
  • Receptors, GABA / drug effects
  • Receptors, GABA / metabolism
  • Receptors, GABA-A / drug effects
  • Receptors, GABA-A / metabolism


  • Convulsants
  • GABA Antagonists
  • GABA-A Receptor Antagonists
  • Receptors, GABA
  • Receptors, GABA-A
  • Bicuculline