Multiple functional neurosteroid binding sites on GABAA receptors

PLoS Biol. 2019 Mar 7;17(3):e3000157. doi: 10.1371/journal.pbio.3000157. eCollection 2019 Mar.


Neurosteroids are endogenous modulators of neuronal excitability and nervous system development and are being developed as anesthetic agents and treatments for psychiatric diseases. While gamma amino-butyric acid Type A (GABAA) receptors are the primary molecular targets of neurosteroid action, the structural details of neurosteroid binding to these proteins remain ill defined. We synthesized neurosteroid analogue photolabeling reagents in which the photolabeling groups were placed at three positions around the neurosteroid ring structure, enabling identification of binding sites and mapping of neurosteroid orientation within these sites. Using middle-down mass spectrometry (MS), we identified three clusters of photolabeled residues representing three distinct neurosteroid binding sites in the human α1β3 GABAA receptor. Novel intrasubunit binding sites were identified within the transmembrane helical bundles of both the α1 (labeled residues α1-N408, Y415) and β3 (labeled residue β3-Y442) subunits, adjacent to the extracellular domains (ECDs). An intersubunit site (labeled residues β3-L294 and G308) in the interface between the β3(+) and α1(-) subunits of the GABAA receptor pentamer was also identified. Computational docking studies of neurosteroid to the three sites predicted critical residues contributing to neurosteroid interaction with the GABAA receptors. Electrophysiological studies of receptors with mutations based on these predictions (α1-V227W, N408A/Y411F, and Q242L) indicate that both the α1 intrasubunit and β3-α1 intersubunit sites are critical for neurosteroid action.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Binding Sites
  • Cell Line
  • Electrophysiology
  • Female
  • Flow Cytometry
  • Humans
  • Mass Spectrometry
  • Membrane Proteins / metabolism*
  • Molecular Docking Simulation
  • Muscimol / metabolism
  • Neurotransmitter Agents / metabolism
  • Oocytes / metabolism
  • Receptors, GABA / metabolism*
  • Xenopus laevis


  • Membrane Proteins
  • Neurotransmitter Agents
  • Receptors, GABA
  • Muscimol