A series of heterocyclic GABA analogues related to muscimol (5-aminomethyl-3-isoxazolol) were tested as depressants of the firing of GABA sensitive neurones on the cat spinal cord, and as inhibitors of the sodium-independent binding of GABA to rat brain membranes. Furthermore, the compounds were examined as inhibitors of GABA uptake into rat brain slices and as inhibitors of the activities of the GABA-metabolizing enzymes L-glutamate 1-carboxylyase and GABA:2-oxoglutarate aminotransferase.

Dihydromuscimol [(RS)-4,5-dihydromuscimol] and thiomuscimol (5-aminomethyl-3-isothiazolol) were approximately equipotent to muscimol as bicuculline-sensitive depressants of neuronal firing and as inhibitors of GABA binding. The structurally related compounds isomuscimol (3-aminomethyl-5-isoxa-zolol) and azamuscimol (5-aminomethyl-3-pyrazolol) were much weaker than muscimol as GABA agonists. The affinity of the compounds for GABA receptor sites in vitro is in agreement with their relative potency as GABA receptor agonists in vivo. The rat brain synaptic membranes used for the GABA receptor binding studies were prepared by two procedures, which were shown to have a pronounced influence on the observed potency of the inhibitors of GABA binding.

The compounds were weak or inactive as inhibitors of the uptake of GABA into rat brain slices and of the activity of GABA: 2-oxoglutarate aminotransferase in vitro. Azamuscimol and 2-methylaza-muscimol were moderately potent inhibitors.of the activity of L-glutamate 1-carboxylyase in vitro. This inhibition by azamuscimol was timedependent following pseudo-first-order kinetics, consistent with azamuscimol acting as a catalytic inhibitor.

The structure of the heterocyclic rings of these zwitterionic compounds is a factor of critical importance for interaction with GABA receptors. The present structure-activity analysis demonstrates that heterocyclic GABA analogues having a high degree of delocalization of the negative charges have low affinity for the GABA receptors.