Assessment of subunit-dependent direct gating and allosteric modulatory effects of carisoprodol at GABA(A) receptors

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Carisoprodol is a widely prescribed muscle relaxant, abuse of which has grown considerably in recent years. It directly activates and allosterically modulates α1β2γ2 GABAARs, although the site(s) of action are unknown. To gain insight into the actions of carisoprodol, subunit-dependent effects of this drug were assessed. Whole-cell patch clamp recordings were obtained from HEK293 cells expressing α1β2, α1β3 or αxβzγ2 (where x = 1–6 and z = 1–3) GABAARs, and in receptors incorporating the δ subunit (modeling extrasynaptic receptors). The ability to directly gate and allosterically potentiate GABA-gated currents was observed for all configurations. Presence or absence of the γ2 subunit did not affect the ability of carisoprodol to directly gate or allosterically modulate the receptor. Presence of the β1 subunit conferred highest efficacy for direct activation relative to maximum GABA currents, while presence of the β2 subunit conferred highest efficacy for allosteric modulation of the GABA response. With regard to α subunits, carisoprodol was most efficacious at enhancing the actions of GABA in receptors incorporating the α1 subunit. The ability to directly gate the receptor was generally comparable regardless of the α subunit isoform, although receptors incorporating the α3 subunit showed significantly reduced direct gating efficacy and affinity. In extrasynaptic (α1β3δ and α4β3δ) receptors, carisoprodol had greater efficacy than GABA as a direct gating agonist. In addition, carisoprodol allosterically potentiated both EC20 and saturating GABA concentrations in these receptors. In assessing voltage-dependence, we found direct gating and inhibitory effects were insensitive to membrane voltage, whereas allosteric modulatory effects were affected by membrane voltage. Our findings demonstrate direct and allosteric effects of carisoprodol at synaptic and extrasynpatic GABAARs and that subunit isoform influences these effects.