Background: Recent evidence is consistent with the view that volatile anesthetics interact directly with excitable membrane-bound channel proteins. If these agents interact directly with chiral centers in the neuronal cell membrane, then their effects should be stereoselective. Using rat brain membranes enriched in gamma-aminobutyric acid type A (GABAA) receptors, we investigated the hypothesis that the permeability response of this well-characterized central nervous system channel protein to stereoisomers of isoflurane is stereoselective.
Methods: Rat brain synaptic microvesicles were prepared by differential centrifugation. Agonist-stimulated 36Cl- flux through membrane-bound GABAA receptors was assayed in the presence of (+)- and (-)-isoflurane and compared with control conditions.
Results: Both isomers increased the potency and efficacy of GABA; however, (+)-isoflurane was significantly more potent and efficacious than the (-)-isomer. For example, the (+)-isomer (140 microM) reduced the median effective concentration of GABA from 12.7 +/- 1.0 to 5.4 +/- 0.5 microM, whereas the (-)-isomer reduced it to 9.6 +/- 1.0 microM (P < 0.001). The (+)-isomer also was 1.6 times as potent as the (-)-isomer in augmenting 5 microM GABA-gated flux (79 +/- 11 vs. 130 +/- 17 microM, respectively; P = 0.01). In addition, the (+)-isomer produced significantly greater maximal enhancement of flux (9.4 +/- 0.4 vs. 7.0 +/- 0.3 nmol.mg-1.3 s-1; P < 0.001).
Conclusions: Isoflurane's effects on GABA-gated chloride flux were stereoselective. This result supports direct interaction with a stereoselective site, possibly the GABAA channel protein itself, rather than a nonspecific perturbation of the surrounding membrane lipid. In addition, these findings, from a functional assay using mammalian brain, agree with recent observations in invertebrate ion channels and mammalian neuronal cell cultures.