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Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA)

 

Explanations > Brains > Brain chemistry > Neurotransmitters > Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA)

Composition | Function | Dysfunction | See also

 

Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) is one of the most common neurotransmitters found in mammals, where it acts as an inhibitor.

Composition

Chemically, Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) is also known as 4-aminobutanoic acid. It is created from glutamate using the enzyme L-glutamic acid decarboxylase (GAD) and pyridoxal phosphate.

Function

GABA, as a general inhibitor and plays an important role in regulation, preventing over-excitation of neuronal channels. It does this by opening ion channel that allow inflow of Cl- or outflow of K+ ions, leading to hyperpolarization.

It is important in brain development, particularly before glutamate synapses arise.

GABAA and GABAC are ionotropic receptors, whilst GABAB are metabotropic receptors. GABAA receptors accepts various drugs including benzodiazepines, barbiturates, ethanol, inhaled anaesthetics and neuroactive steroids.

GABAB receptors are found in the CNS and ANS and are inhibitory. GABAC receptors are similar to GABAA but is particularly prevalent in the retina of the eye and conducts Cl ions.

Dysfunction

In spastic diplegia, GABA absorption by some nerves becomes damaged, leading excessive muscular tensing.

Unrestricted synaptic excitation across the brain causes a seizure. It is thought that GABA is implicated in epilepsy.

Drugs

Allylglycine is an antagonist that inactivates GAD and hence removes its inhibitory effects.

Muscimol (derived muscarine) is a direct agonist.

Dicuculline blocks a GABA binding site and is a direct antagonist.

Benzodiasepines, including diazapam (Vallium) and chlorodiazepoxide (Librium) act as tranquillizers, binding to a GABAA site, reducing anxiety, relaxing muscles and promoting sleep. Alcohol is believed to bind with this site too.

Another GABAA site binds with barbiturates whilst another binds with steroids which are used as general anesthetics. In lower doses, barbituates are calming. In increasingly higher doses they cause difficulty in walking and talking, then unconsciousness, coma and death.

Picotoxin (a shrub-derived poison) binds to yet another site and inhibits GABAA. In high doses it causes convulsions.

Baclofen acts on GABAB as an antagonist, thus acting as a muscle relaxant. 

See also

Glutamate

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