Evidence that GABA ρ subunits contribute to functional ionotropic GABA receptors in mouse cerebellar Purkinje cells


Corresponding author G. J. Stephens: School of Pharmacy, University of Reading, Whiteknights, PO Box 228, Reading RG6 6AJ, UK. Email:


Ionotropic γ-amino butyric acid (GABA) receptors composed of heterogeneous molecular subunits are major mediators of inhibitory responses in the adult CNS. Here, we describe a novel ionotropic GABA receptor in mouse cerebellar Purkinje cells (PCs) using agents reported to have increased affinity for ρ subunit-containing GABAC over other GABA receptors. Exogenous application of the GABAC-preferring agonist cis-4-aminocrotonic acid (CACA) evoked whole-cell currents in PCs, whilst equimolar concentrations of GABA evoked larger currents. CACA-evoked currents had a greater sensitivity to the selective GABAC antagonist (1,2,5,6-tetrahydropyridin-4-yl)methylphosphinic acid (TPMPA) than GABA-evoked currents. Focal application of agonists produced a differential response profile; CACA-evoked currents displayed a much more pronounced attenuation with increasing distance from the PC soma, displayed a slower time-to-peak and exhibited less desensitization than GABA-evoked currents. However, CACA-evoked currents were also completely blocked by bicuculline, a selective agent for GABAA receptors. Thus, we describe a population of ionotropic GABA receptors with a mixed GABAA/GABAC pharmacology. TPMPA reduced inhibitory synaptic transmission at interneurone–Purkinje cell (IN–PC) synapses, causing clear reductions in miniature inhibitory postsynaptic current (mIPSC) amplitude and frequency. Combined application of NO-711 (a selective GABA transporter subtype 1 (GAT-1) antagonist) and SNAP-5114 (a GAT-(2)/3/4 antagonist) induced a tonic GABA conductance in PCs; however, TPMPA had no effect on this current. Immunohistochemical studies suggest that ρ subunits are expressed predominantly in PC soma and proximal dendritic compartments with a lower level of expression in more distal dendrites; this selective immunoreactivity contrasted with a more uniform distribution of GABAAα1 subunits in PCs. Finally, co-immunoprecipitation studies suggest that ρ subunits can form complexes with GABAA receptor α1 subunits in the cerebellar cortex. Overall, these data suggest that ρ subunits contribute to functional ionotropic receptors that mediate a component of phasic inhibitory GABAergic transmission at IN–PC synapses in the cerebellum.