Desensitization of a gamma-aminobutyric acid type A receptor in rat is increased by chronic treatment with chlordiazepoxide: a molecular mechanism of dependence.
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When rats were made tolerant to the benzodiazepine tranquilizer chlordiazepoxide (CDPX) by its steady administration, a particular gamma-aminobutyric acid type A (GABAA) receptor in cerebral cortex was modified. Its rate of desensitization in the absence of CDPX was enhanced (3-fold with 10 microM GABA) below saturation with GABA, and the dependence of this rate on GABA concentration was changed from sigmoid to hyperbolic. This mimicked the effect of the presence of CDPX on desensitization of the naive receptor. This receptor has been characterized by its rapid desensitization (t1/2 = 30 msec at saturation). In contrast, a different, slower desensitizing GABAA receptor, on the same membrane, was unaffected, and the initial transmembrane halide exchange rate of the faster desensitizing receptor was unaltered. In the presence of CDPX, the initial halide exchange rate of the modified receptor was enhanced, but the already enhanced desensitization rate was not altered. During chronic presence of CDPX and the development of tolerance, the total signal due to this receptor remained constant at the value before exposure. After discontinuation, the total signal decreased but could be restored to the original value by the presence of CDPX. It was postulated that dependence and withdrawal syndromes result from a decreased ratio of initial chloride flux rate to desensitization rate, caused by an increase in desensitization. The contribution of this effect in vivo would depend on desensitization making a contribution to signal termination [or the fraction of receptors that are inactive (desensitized)]. In the quench flow experiments, the total signal due to this receptor from naive rat did not depend much on GABA concentration or the presence of CDPX because the result of increased channel opening was counterbalanced by increased desensitization. In contrast, the total signal of this receptor from tolerant rat was significantly increased by CDPX or increased GABA concentration. Differences between these experiments and measurements reported with other drugs could be explained if, in those experiments, the halide exchange rate, as well as its desensitization rate, retained an enhanced value in the absence of the drug.