Primate cerebellar granule cells exhibit a tonic GABAAR conductance that is not affected by alcohol: a possible cellular substrate of the low level of response phenotype

Front Neural Circuits. 2013 Nov 26:7:189. doi: 10.3389/fncir.2013.00189. eCollection 2013.


In many rodent brain regions, alcohol increases vesicular release of GABA, resulting in an increase in the frequency of spontaneous inhibitory postsynaptic currents (sIPSCs) and the magnitude of tonic GABAA receptor (GABAAR) currents. A neglected issue in translating the rodent literature to humans is the possibility that phylogenetic differences alter the actions of alcohol. To address this issue we made voltage-clamp recordings from granule cells (GCs) in cerebellar slices from the non-human primate (NHP), Macaca fascicularis. We found that similar to Sprague Dawley rats (SDRs), NHP GCs exhibit a tonic conductance generated by α6δ subunit containing GABAARs, as evidenced by its blockade by the broad spectrum GABAAR antagonist, GABAzine (10 μM), inhibition by α6 selective antagonist, furosemide (100 μM), and enhancement by THDOC (10-20 nM) and THIP (500 nM). In contrast to SDR GCs, in most NHP GCs (~60%), application of EtOH (25-105 mM) did not increase sIPSC frequency or the tonic GABAAR current. In a minority of cells (~40%), EtOH did increase sIPSC frequency and the tonic current. The relative lack of response to EtOH was associated with reduced expression of neuronal nitric oxide synthase (nNOS), which we recently reported mediates EtOH-induced enhancement of vesicular GABA release in rats. The EtOH-induced increase in tonic GABAAR current was significantly smaller in NHPs than in SDRs, presumably due to less GABA release, because there were no obvious differences in the density of GABAARs or GABA transporters between SDR and NHP GCs. Thus, EtOH does not directly modulate α6δ subunit GABAARs in NHPs. Instead, EtOH enhanced GABAergic transmission is mediated by enhanced GABA release. Further, SDR GC responses to alcohol are only representative of a subpopulation of NHP GCs. This suggests that the impact of EtOH on NHP cerebellar physiology will be reduced compared to SDRs, and will likely have different computational and behavioral consequences.

Keywords: GABA modulators; GABA-A receptor; alcohol drinking; cerebellum; ethanol; primate.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cerebellum / cytology
  • Cerebellum / drug effects
  • Cerebellum / metabolism*
  • Ethanol / pharmacology*
  • GABA-A Receptor Antagonists / pharmacology
  • Inhibitory Postsynaptic Potentials / drug effects
  • Inhibitory Postsynaptic Potentials / physiology
  • Macaca fascicularis
  • Neural Conduction / drug effects
  • Neural Conduction / physiology*
  • Neurons / cytology
  • Neurons / drug effects
  • Neurons / metabolism*
  • Nitric Oxide Synthase Type I / metabolism
  • Pyridazines / pharmacology
  • Receptors, GABA-A / metabolism*
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid / metabolism


  • GABA-A Receptor Antagonists
  • Pyridazines
  • Receptors, GABA-A
  • Ethanol
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid
  • gabazine
  • Nitric Oxide Synthase Type I