EEG-β/γ spectral power elevation in rat: a translatable biomarker elicited by GABA(Aα2/3)-positive allosteric modulators at nonsedating anxiolytic doses

J Neurophysiol. 2015 Jan 1;113(1):116-31. doi: 10.1152/jn.00539.2013. Epub 2014 Sep 24.


Benzodiazepine drugs, through interaction with GABA(Aα1), GABA(Aα2,3), and GABA(Aα5) subunits, modulate cortical network oscillations, as reflected by a complex signature in the EEG power spectrum. Recent drug discovery efforts have developed GABA(Aα2,3)-subunit-selective partial modulators in an effort to dissociate the side effect liabilities from the efficacy imparted by benzodiazepines. Here, we evaluated rat EEG and behavioral end points during dosing of nine chemically distinct compounds that we confirmed statistically to selectively to enhance GABA(Aα2,3)-mediated vs. GABA(Aα1) or GABA(Aα5) currents in voltage clamped oocytes transfected with those GABA(A) subunits. These compounds were shown with in vivo receptor occupancy techniques to competitively displace [(3)H]flumazenil in multiple brain regions following peripheral administration at increasing doses. Over the same dose range, the compounds all produced dose-dependent EEG spectral power increases in the β- and and γ-bands. Finally, the dose range that increased γ-power coincided with that eliciting punished over unpunished responding in a behavioral conflict model of anxiety, indicative of anxiolysis without sedation. EEG γ-band power increases showed a significant positive correlation to in vitro GABA(Aα2,3) modulatory intrinsic activity across the compound set, further supporting a hypothesis that this EEG signature was linked specifically to pharmacological modulation of GABA(Aα2,3) signaling. These findings encourage further evaluation of this EEG signature as a noninvasive clinical translational biomarker that could ultimately facilitate development of GABA(Aα2,3)-subtype-selective drugs for anxiety and potentially other indications.

Keywords: GABAA subtypes; anxiolysis; benzodiazepine; electroencehalography; gamma network oscillation; pharmaco-EEG.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anti-Anxiety Agents / pharmacokinetics
  • Anti-Anxiety Agents / pharmacology*
  • Anxiety / drug therapy
  • Anxiety / physiopathology
  • Auditory Perception / drug effects
  • Auditory Perception / physiology
  • Beta Rhythm / drug effects*
  • Beta Rhythm / physiology
  • Brain / drug effects*
  • Brain / physiopathology
  • Conditioning, Operant / drug effects
  • Conditioning, Operant / physiology
  • Conflict, Psychological
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Electrodes, Implanted
  • Electroencephalography
  • GABA Agents / pharmacokinetics
  • GABA Agents / pharmacology*
  • Gamma Rhythm / drug effects*
  • Gamma Rhythm / physiology
  • Linear Models
  • Male
  • Patch-Clamp Techniques
  • Rats, Long-Evans
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Receptors, GABA-A / metabolism


  • Anti-Anxiety Agents
  • GABA Agents
  • Gabra2 protein, rat
  • Gabra3 protein, rat
  • Receptors, GABA-A