Assessment of direct gating and allosteric modulatory effects of meprobamate in recombinant GABA(A) receptors

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Meprobamate is a schedule II anxiolytic and the primary metabolite of the muscle relaxant carisoprodol. Meprobamate modulates GABAA (γ-aminobutyric acid type A) receptors, and has barbiturate-like activity. To gain insight into its actions, we have conducted a series of studies using recombinant GABAA receptors. In αxβzγ GABAA receptors (where x = 1–6 and z = 1–3), the ability to enhance GABA-mediated current was evident for all α subunit isoforms, with the largest effect observed in α5-expressing receptors. Direct gating was present with all α subunits, although attenuated in α3-expressing receptors. Allosteric and direct effects were comparable in α1β1γ2 and α1β2γ2 receptors, whereas allosteric effects were enhanced in α1β2 compared to α1β2γ2 receptors. In “extrasynaptic” (α1β3δ and α4β3δ) receptors, meprobamate enhanced EC20 and saturating GABA currents, and directly activated these receptors. The barbiturate antagonist bemegride attenuated direct effects of meprobamate. Whereas pentobarbital directly gated homomeric β3 receptors, meprobamate did not, and instead blocked the spontaneously open current present in these receptors. In wild type homomeric ρ1 receptors, pentobarbital and meprobamate were ineffective in direct gating; a mutation known to confer sensitivity to pentobarbital did not confer sensitivity to meprobamate. Our results provide insight into the actions of meprobamate and parent therapeutic agents such as carisoprodol. Whereas in general actions of meprobamate were comparable to those of carisoprodol, differential effects of meprobamate at some receptor subtypes suggest potential advantages of meprobamate may be exploited. A re-assessment of previously synthesized meprobamate-related carbamate molecules for myorelaxant and other therapeutic indications is warranted.