Email updates

Keep up to date with the latest news and content from BMC Pharmacology and BioMed Central.

Open Access Open Badges Research article

Extrinsic factors regulate partial agonist efficacy of strychnine-sensitive glycine receptors

Jeffrey S Farroni12 and Brian A McCool13*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Medical Pharmacology & Toxicology, Texas A&M University System Health Science Center, College Station TX 77843, USA

2 Department of Marine Biology, Texas A&M University at Galveston, Galveston TX 77553, USA

3 Department of Physiology & Pharmacology, Wake Forest University School of Medicine, Winston-Salem NC 27157, USA

For all author emails, please log on.

BMC Pharmacology 2004, 4:16  doi:10.1186/1471-2210-4-16

Published: 9 August 2004



Strychnine-sensitive glycine receptors in many adult forebrain regions consist of alpha2 + beta heteromeric channels. This subunit composition is distinct from the alpha1 + beta channels found throughout the adult spinal cord. Unfortunately, the pharmacology of forebrain alpha2beta receptors are poorly defined compared to 'neonatal' alpha2 homomeric channels or 'spinal' alpha1beta heteromers. In addition, the pharmacologic properties of native alpha2beta glycine receptors have been generally distinct from receptors produced by heterologous expression. To identify subtype-specific pharmacologic tools for the forebrain alpha2beta receptors, it is important to identify a heterologous expression system that closely resembles these native glycine-gated chloride channels.


While exploring pharmacological properties of alpha2beta glycine receptors compared to alpha2-homomers, we found that distinct heterologous expression systems appeared to differentially influence partial agonist pharmacology. The β-amino acid taurine possessed 30–50% efficacy for alpha2-containing receptor isoforms when expressed in HEK 293 cells. However, taurine efficacy was dramatically reduced in L-cell fibroblasts. Similar results were obtained for β-alanine. The efficacy of these partial agonists was also strongly reduced by the beta subunit. There were no significant differences in apparent strychnine affinity values calculated from concentration-response data between expression systems or subunit combinations. Nor did relative levels of expression correlate with partial agonist efficacy when compared within or between several different expression systems. Finally, disruption of the tubulin cytoskeleton reduced the efficacy of partial agonists in a subunit-dependent, but system-independent, fashion.


Our results suggest that different heterologous expression systems can dramatically influence the agonist pharmacology of strychnine-sensitive glycine receptors. In the systems examine here, these effects are independent of both absolute expression level and any system-related alterations in the agonist binding site. We conclude that complex interactions between receptor composition and extrinsic factors may play a significant role in determining strychnine-sensitive glycine receptor partial agonist pharmacology.