The impact of tonic GABAA receptor-mediated inhibition on neuronal excitability varies across brain region and cell type

Front Neural Circuits. 2014 Feb 3:8:3. doi: 10.3389/fncir.2014.00003. eCollection 2014.


The diversity of GABAA receptor (GABAAR) subunits and the numerous configurations during subunit assembly give rise to a variety of receptors with different functional properties. This heterogeneity results in variations in GABAergic conductances across numerous brain regions and cell types. Phasic inhibition is mediated by synaptically-localized receptors with a low affinity for GABA and results in a transient, rapidly desensitizing GABAergic conductance; whereas, tonic inhibition is mediated by extrasynaptic receptors with a high affinity for GABA and results in a persistent GABAergic conductance. The specific functions of tonic versus phasic GABAergic inhibition in different cell types and the impact on specific neural circuits are only beginning to be unraveled. Here we review the diversity in the magnitude of tonic GABAergic inhibition in various brain regions and cell types, and highlight the impact on neuronal excitability in different neuronal circuits. Further, we discuss the relevance of tonic inhibition in various physiological and pathological contexts as well as the potential of targeting these receptor subtypes for treatment of diseases, such as epilepsy.

Keywords: GABA; epilepsy; neuronal excitability; neurosteroids; tonic inhibition.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Brain / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Neural Inhibition / physiology*
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Receptors, GABA-A / physiology*
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid / metabolism


  • Receptors, GABA-A
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid