The cannabinoid CB1 receptor antagonists rimonabant (SR141716) and AM251 directly potentiate GABAA receptors


Erwin Sigel, Institute of Biochemistry and Molecular Medicine, University of Bern, Bühlstr, 28, CH-3012 Bern, Switzerland. E-mail:


BACKGROUND AND PURPOSE Rimonabant (SR141716) and the structurally related AM251 are widely used in pharmacological experiments as selective cannabinoid receptor CB1 antagonists / inverse agonists. Concentrations of 0.5–10 µM are usually applied in in vitro experiments. We intended to show that these drugs did not act at GABAA receptors but found a significant positive allosteric modulation instead.

EXPERIMENTAL APPROACH Recombinant GABAA receptors were expressed in Xenopus oocytes. Receptors were exposed to AM251 or rimonabant in the absence and presence of GABA. Standard electrophysiological techniques were used to monitor the elicited ionic currents.

KEY RESULTS AM251 dose-dependently potentiated responses to 0.5 µM GABA at the recombinant α1β2γ2 GABAA receptor with an EC50 below 1 µM and a maximal potentiation of about eightfold. The Hill coefficient indicated that more than one binding site for AM251 was located in this receptor. Rimonabant had a lower affinity, but a fourfold higher efficacy. AM251 potentiated also currents mediated by α1β2, αxβ2γ2 (x = 2,3,5,6), α1β3γ2 and α4β2δ GABAA receptors, but not those mediated by α1β1γ2. Interestingly, the CB1 receptor antagonists LY320135 and O-2050 did not significantly affect α1β2γ2 GABAA receptor-mediated currents at concentrations of 1 µM.

CONCLUSIONS AND IMPLICATIONS This study identified rimonabant and AM251 as positive allosteric modulators of GABAA receptors. Thus, potential GABAergic effects of commonly used concentrations of these compounds should be considered in in vitro experiments, especially at extrasynaptic sites where GABA concentrations are low.

LINKED ARTICLES This article is part of a themed section on Cannabinoids in Biology and Medicine. To view the other articles in this section visit To view Part I of Cannabinoids in Biology and Medicine visit