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Site-specific effects of neurosteroids on GABAA receptor activation and desensitization

By Yusuke Sugasawa, Wayland W. L. Cheng, John R Bracamontes, Zi-Wei Chen, Lei Wang, Allison L Germann, Spencer R Pierce, Thomas C Senneff, Kathiresan Krishnan, David E Reichert, Douglas F Covey, Gustav Akk, Alex S. Evers

Posted 28 Apr 2020
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2020.04.27.063404 (published DOI: 10.7554/eLife.55331)

This study examines how site-specific binding to the three identified neurosteroid binding sites in the α1β3 GABAA receptor (GABAAR) contributes to neurosteroid allosteric modulation. We found that the potentiating neurosteroid, allopregnanolone, but not its inhibitory 3β-epimer epi-allopregnanolone, binds to the canonical β3(+)–α1(-) intersubunit site that mediates receptor activation by neurosteroids. In contrast, both allopregnanolone and epi-allopregnanolone bind to intrasubunit sites in the β3 subunit, promoting receptor desensitization and the α1 subunit promoting ligand-specific effects. Two neurosteroid analogues with diazirine moieties replacing the 3-hydroxyl (KK148 and KK150) bind to all three sites, but do not potentiate GABAAR currents. KK148 is a desensitizing agent, whereas KK150 is devoid of allosteric activity. These compounds provide potential chemical scaffolds for site-specific and general neurosteroid antagonists. Collectively, these data show that differential occupancy and efficacy at three discrete neurosteroid binding sites determine whether a neurosteroid has potentiating, inhibitory, or competitive antagonist activity on GABAARs.

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