In intact islets interstitial GABA activates GABA(A) receptors that generate tonic currents in α-cells

PLoS One. 2013 Jun 24;8(6):e67228. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0067228. Print 2013.


In the rat islets γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA) is produced by the β-cells and, at least, the α-cells express the GABA(A) receptors (GABA(A) channels). In this study, we examined in intact islets if the interstitial GABA activated the GABA(A) receptors. We used the patch-clamp technique to record whole-cell and single-channel currents and single-cell RT-PCR to identify the cell-type we recorded from, in the intact rat islets. We further identified which GABA(A) receptor subunits were expressed. We determined the cell-type of 43 cells we recorded from and of these 49%, 28% and 7% were α, β and δ-cells, respectively. In the remaining 16% of the cells, mRNA transcripts of more than one hormone gene were detected. The results show that in rat islets interstitial GABA activates tonic current in the α-cells but not in the β-cells. Seventeen different GABA(A) receptor subunits are expressed with high expression of α1, α2, α4, α6, β3, γ1, δ, ρ1, ρ2 and ρ3 subunits whereas no expression was detected for α5 or ε subunits. The abundance of the GABA(A) receptor subunits detected suggests that a number of GABA(A) receptor subtypes are formed in the islets. The single-channel and tonic currents were enhanced by pentobarbital and inhibited by the GABA(A) receptor antagonist SR-95531. The single-channel conductance ranged from 24 to 105 pS. Whether the single-channel conductance is related to subtypes of the GABA(A) receptor or variable interstitial GABA concentrations remains to be determined. Our results reveal that GABA is an extracellular signaling molecule in rat pancreatic islets and reaches concentration levels that activate GABA(A) receptors on the glucagon-releasing α-cells.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Gene Expression Regulation / drug effects
  • Glucagon-Secreting Cells / drug effects
  • Glucagon-Secreting Cells / metabolism*
  • Ion Channel Gating / drug effects*
  • Pentobarbital / pharmacology
  • Protein Subunits / genetics
  • Protein Subunits / metabolism
  • Pyridazines / pharmacology
  • RNA, Messenger / genetics
  • RNA, Messenger / metabolism
  • Rats
  • Rats, Wistar
  • Receptors, GABA-A / genetics
  • Receptors, GABA-A / metabolism*
  • Reverse Transcriptase Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid / pharmacology*


  • Protein Subunits
  • Pyridazines
  • RNA, Messenger
  • Receptors, GABA-A
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid
  • gabazine
  • Pentobarbital

Grant support

The authors thank the Swedish Research Council, Swedish Diabetes Research Foundation, The Ernfors Foundation and EXODIAB for financial support. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.