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A Reinforcing Circuit Action of Extrasynaptic GABAA Receptor Modulators on Cerebellar Granule Cell Inhibition


GABAA receptors (GABARs) are the targets of a wide variety of modulatory drugs which enhance chloride flux through GABAR ion channels. Certain GABAR modulators appear to acutely enhance the function of δ subunit-containing GABAR subtypes responsible for tonic forms of inhibition. Here we identify a reinforcing circuit mechanism by which these drugs, in addition to directly enhancing GABAR function, also increase GABA release. Electrophysiological recordings in cerebellar slices from rats homozygous for the ethanol-hypersensitive (α6100Q) allele show that modulators and agonists selective for δ-containing GABARs such as THDOC, ethanol and THIP (gaboxadol) increased the frequency of spontaneous inhibitory postsynaptic currents (sIPSCs) in granule cells. Ethanol fails to augment granule cell sIPSC frequency in the presence of glutamate receptor antagonists, indicating that circuit mechanisms involving granule cell output contribute to ethanol-enhancement of synaptic inhibition. Additionally, GABAR antagonists decrease ethanol-induced enhancement of Golgi cell firing. Consistent with a role for glutamatergic inputs, THIP-induced increases in Golgi cell firing are abolished by glutamate receptor antagonists. Moreover, THIP enhances the frequency of spontaneous excitatory postsynaptic currents in Golgi cells. Analyses of knockout mice indicate that δ subunit-containing GABARs are required for enhancing GABA release in the presence of ethanol and THIP. The limited expression of the GABAR δ subunit protein within the cerebellar cortex suggests that an indirect, circuit mechanism is responsible for stimulating Golgi cell GABA release by drugs selective for extrasynaptic isoforms of GABARs. Such circuit effects reinforce direct actions of these positive modulators on tonic GABAergic inhibition and are likely to contribute to the potent effect of these compounds as nervous system depressants.

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