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Virally-induced expression of GABAA receptor δ subunits following their pathological loss reveals their role in regulating GABAA receptor assembly

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Decreased expression of the δ subunit of the GABAA receptor (GABAAR) has been found in the dentate gyrus in several animal models of epilepsy and other disorders with increased excitability and is associated with altered modulation of tonic inhibition in dentate granule cells (GCs). In contrast, other GABAAR subunits, including α4 and γ2 subunits, are increased, but the relationship between these changes is unclear. The goals of this study were to determine if viral transfection of δ subunits in dentate GCs could increase δ subunit expression, alter expression of potentially-related GABAAR subunits, and restore more normal network excitability in the dentate gyrus in a mouse model of epilepsy. Pilocarpine-induced seizures were elicited in DOCK10-Cre mice that express Cre selectively in dentate GCs, and two weeks later the mice were injected unilaterally with a Cre-dependent δ-GABAAR viral vector. At 4-6 weeks following transfection, δ subunit immunolabeling was substantially increased in dentate GCs on the transfected side compared to the nontransfected side. Importantly, α4 and γ2 subunit labeling was downregulated on the transfected side. Electrophysiological studies revealed enhanced tonic inhibition, decreased network excitability, and increased neurosteroid sensitivity in slices from the δ subunit-transfected side compared to those from the nontransfected side of the same pilocarpine-treated animal, consistent with the formation of δ subunit-containing GABAARs. No differences were observed between sides of eYFP-transfected animals. These findings are consistent with the idea that altering expression of key subunits, such as the δ subunit, regulates GABAAR subunit assemblies, resulting in substantial effects on network excitability.

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