GABA pharmacology: the search for analgesics

Neurochem Res. 2014 Oct;39(10):1948-63. doi: 10.1007/s11064-014-1254-x. Epub 2014 Feb 15.


Decades of research have been devoted to defining the role of GABAergic transmission in nociceptive processing. Much of this work was performed using rigid, orthosteric GABA analogs created by Povl Krogsgaard-Larsen and his associates. A relationship between GABA and pain is suggested by the anatomical distribution of GABA receptors and the ability of some GABA agonists to alter nociceptive responsiveness. Outlined in this report are data supporting this proposition, with particular emphasis on the anatomical localization and function of GABA-containing neurons and the molecular and pharmacological properties of GABAA and GABAB receptor subtypes. Reference is made to changes in overall GABAergic tone, GABA receptor expression and activity as a function of the duration and intensity of a painful stimulus or exposure to GABAergic agents. Evidence is presented that the plasticity of this receptor system may be responsible for the variability in the antinociceptive effectiveness of compounds that influence GABA transmission. These findings demonstrate that at least some types of persistent pain are associated with a regionally selective decline in GABAergic tone, highlighting the need for agents that enhance GABA activity in the affected regions without compromising GABA function over the long-term. As subtype selective positive allosteric modulators may accomplish these goals, such compounds might represent a new class of analgesic drugs.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Analgesics / pharmacology*
  • Humans
  • Pain / metabolism
  • Receptors, GABA / drug effects*
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid / metabolism*


  • Analgesics
  • Receptors, GABA
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid