Neuronal inhibition can occur via synaptic mechanisms or through tonic activation of extrasynaptic receptors. In spinal cord, glycine mediates synaptic inhibition through the activation of heteromeric glycine receptors (GlyRs) composed primarily of α1 and β subunits. Inhibitory GlyRs are also found throughout the brain, where GlyR α2 and α3 subunit expression exceeds that of α1, particularly in forebrain structures, and coassembly of these α subunits with the β subunit appears to occur to a lesser extent than in spinal cord. Here, we analyzed GlyR currents in several regions of the adolescent mouse forebrain (striatum, prefrontal cortex, hippocampus, amygdala, and bed nucleus of the stria terminalis). Our results show ubiquitous expression of GlyRs that mediate large-amplitude currents in response to exogenously applied glycine in these forebrain structures. Additionally, tonic inward currents were also detected, but only in the striatum, hippocampus, and prefrontal cortex (PFC). These tonic currents were sensitive to both strychnine and picrotoxin, indicating that they are mediated by extrasynaptic homomeric GlyRs. Recordings from mice deficient in the GlyR α3 subunit (Glra3-/-) revealed a lack of tonic GlyR currents in the striatum and the PFC. In Glra2-/Y animals, GlyR tonic currents were preserved; however, the amplitudes of current responses to exogenous glycine were significantly reduced. We conclude that functional α2 and α3 GlyRs are present in various regions of the forebrain and that α3 GlyRs specifically participate in tonic inhibition in the striatum and PFC. Our findings suggest roles for glycine in regulating neuronal excitability in the forebrain.
Keywords: Cys-loop receptor; alpha subunits; glycine receptor; strychnine; tonic inhibition.