The role of the GABA(A) receptor alpha1 subunit N-terminal extracellular domain in propofol potentiation of chloride current

Neuropharmacology. 1997 Nov-Dec;36(11-12):1611-21. doi: 10.1016/s0028-3908(97)00180-9.


Propofol (2,6-diisopropylphenol), an intravenous general anesthetic in active clinical use today, potentiates the action of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) at the type-A receptor and also directly induces current in the absence of GABA. We expressed different combinations of murine GABA(A) receptor alpha1, beta3 and gamma2 subunits in Xenopus oocytes to investigate the subunit dependence of propofol potentiation of pentobarbital-induced current. Pentobarbital induces current in all beta3-subunit-containing receptors, whereas current gating by GABA requires the presence of both alpha1 and beta3 subunits. Therefore, pentobarbital rather than GABA was used to induce current in order to separate the subunit dependence of current gating from the subunit dependence of potentiating action of propofol. alpha1beta3gamma2, alpha1beta3, beta3gamma2, or beta3 subunit combinations all responded to pentobarbital in a dose-dependent manner. True potentiation was defined as the current magnitude to simultaneous application of pentobarbital and propofol exceeding the additive responses to individual drug applications. A dose-dependent propofol potentiation of pentobarbital-induced current was observed in oocytes injected with alpha1beta3 or alpha1beta3gamma2 but not in beta3gamma2 or beta3 subunits, suggesting that the alpha1 subunit was necessary for this modulatory action of propofol. Further examination of the propofol potentiation in chimeras between the alpha1 and beta3 subunits showed that the extracellular amino-terminal half of the alpha1 subunit was sufficient to support propofol potentiation. The different requirements of the receptor structure for the agonistic (gating) and the potentiating actions suggest that these two actions of propofol are distinct processes mediated through its action at distinct sites.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Anesthetics, Intravenous / pharmacology*
  • Animals
  • Chimera
  • Chloride Channels / drug effects*
  • Chloride Channels / genetics
  • Chloride Channels / metabolism*
  • Drug Synergism
  • Extracellular Space / drug effects
  • Extracellular Space / metabolism
  • GABA Modulators / pharmacology
  • Mice
  • Oocytes / metabolism
  • Pentobarbital / pharmacology
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Propofol / pharmacology*
  • Receptors, GABA-A / biosynthesis
  • Receptors, GABA-A / genetics
  • Receptors, GABA-A / metabolism*
  • Xenopus laevis


  • Anesthetics, Intravenous
  • Chloride Channels
  • GABA Modulators
  • Receptors, GABA-A
  • Pentobarbital
  • Propofol