Alcohol enhances GABAergic transmission to cerebellar granule cells via an increase in Golgi cell excitability.
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Alcohol intoxication alters coordination and motor skills, and this is responsible for a significant number of traffic accident-related deaths around the world. Although the precise mechanism of action of ethanol (EtOH) is presently unknown, studies suggest that it acts, in part, by interfering with normal cerebellar functioning. An important component of cerebellar circuits is the granule cell. The excitability of these abundantly expressed neurons is controlled by the Golgi cell, a subtype of GABAergic interneuron. Granule cells receive GABAergic input in the form of phasic and tonic currents that are mediated by synaptic and extrasynaptic receptors, respectively. Using the acute cerebellar slice preparation and patch-clamp electrophysiological techniques, we found that ethanol induces a parallel increase in both the frequency of spontaneous IPSCs and the magnitude of the tonic current. EtOH (50 mm) did not produce this effect when spontaneous action potentials were blocked with tetrodotoxin. Recordings in the loose-patch cell-attached configuration demonstrated that ethanol increases the frequency of spontaneous action potentials in Golgi cells. Taken together, these findings indicate that ethanol enhances GABAergic inhibition of granule cells via a presynaptic mechanism that involves an increase in action potential-dependent GABA release from Golgi cells. This effect is likely to have an impact on the flow of information through the cerebellar cortex and may contribute to the mechanism by which acute ingestion of alcoholic beverages induces motor impairment.