The relationship between glycine receptor agonist efficacy and allosteric modulation
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The glycine receptor (GlyR) is a ligand-gated ion channel member of the cys-loop receptor superfamily, responsible for inhibitory neurotransmission in the brain and spinal cord. Both glycine and the partial agonist taurine act as endogenous ligands of the GlyR. Taurine-activated GlyR may have a role in the rewarding effects of drugs of abuse, such as ethanol. As a partial agonist, taurine has a decreased efficacy relative to glycine, resulting in a decreased maximum response. We investigated the effects of ethanol, anesthetics, inhalants, and zinc to determine if these allosteric modulators could increase the efficacy of the taurine-activated GlyR. Whole cell recordings of wild type GlyR revealed that each of the allosteric modulators potentiated currents generated by saturating concentrations of taurine but not glycine, implying an increase in efficacy. Zinc is found at GlyR-potentiating concentrations throughout the nervous system, so we examined the combinatorial effects of these allosteric modulators with zinc to mimic in vivo conditions. Whole cell recordings revealed that zinc potentiation of saturating taurine-generated currents decreased further potentiation by another allosteric modulator, indicating no synergistic effects on efficacy. We next investigated the actions of ethanol and isoflurane on the taurine-activated GlyR at the single channel level, finding that both allosteric modulators stabilized the channel open state, increasing the efficacy of the taurine-activated GlyR. We previously identified a mutation in the ligand-binding domain of the GlyR (D97R) that produces spontaneously activating channels, on which taurine has increased efficacy. We identified a residue, R131, as a possible binding partner of D97 in forming an electrostatic interaction that holds the channel in the closed state. We found that disruption of this interaction results in greatly increased taurine efficacy, indicating that efficacy for partial agonists may be determined by agonist ability to break this bond early in the activation process following binding. Thus we find differential mechanisms of allosteric modulation and efficacy determinations for the GlyR when activated by taurine vs. glycine.