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New model synapse could shed light on disorders such as epilepsy and anxiety
Date:8/8/2012

-A receptor's location on the cell membrane."

First, Chen and his team used molecular engineering techniques to develop a model synapse between a nerve cell and a special kind of kidney cell used widely in cell-biology research -- called an HEK cell -- in order to study how specific receptors behaved. They then altered the Alpha subunits in the GABA-A receptors expressed in the kidney cell in order to test how a single variation might affect the behavior of the receptor. They found that the receptors behaved very differently in response to the GABA neurotransmitter, depending on whether they had an Alpha 2 or an Alpha 6 subunit. "Not only do the Alpha subunits play an important role in determining how the GABA-A receptor responds to the neurotransmitter, but the Alpha 2 and Alpha 6 subunits also guide the receptors to very different regions on the cell membrane," Chen said.

Specifically, Chen and his collaborators found that when a GABA-A receptor had an Alpha 2 subunit, the receptor tended to cluster at the synaptic region on the cell membrane. However, when a GABA-A receptor had an Alpha 6 subunit, the receptor tended to migrate to a different area on the cell membrane called the extrasynaptic region.

Chen explained that understanding such a difference in receptor behavior can be especially important in predicting what side effects a drug might cause. For example, many GABA-receptor-targeting drugs such as Valium and Xanax, which are used to treat anxiety, appear to directly change the GABA neurotransmitter's synaptic transmission, significantly altering nerve-cell activity and causing side effects such as confusion, agitation, and memory loss.

"If we imagine that a cell represents a big city, then the synaptic regions are major highways leading to the city," Chen said. "There are serious side effects of disrupting those 'major highways' because brain function relies upon a delicate excitation-inhibition balance and breaking th
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Contact: Barbara K. Kennedy
science@psu.edu
814-863-4682
Penn State
Source:Eurekalert  

Page: 1 2 3

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