The dual modulatory effects of efavirenz on GABAA receptors are mediated via two distinct sites

Renqi Huang, Zhenglan Chen, Sean Dolan, John A. Schetz, Glenn H. Dillon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Efavirenz is a widely prescribed medicine used to treat type 1 human immunodeficiency virus (HIV-1), the most prevalent pathogenic strain of the virus responsible for the acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) pandemic. Under prescribed dosing conditions, either alone or in combination therapy, efavirenz-induced CNS disturbances are frequently reported. Efavirenz was recently reported to interact in a similar concentration range with a number of receptors, transporters and ion channels including recombinant rat α1β2γ2 GABAA receptors whose actions were potentiated (Gatch et al., 2013; Dalwadi et al., 2016). Now we report on the molecular mechanism of efavirenz on GABAA receptors as a function of concentration and subunit composition via whole-cell recordings of GABA-activated currents from HEK293 cells expressing varying subunit configurations of GABAA receptors. Efavirenz elicited dual effects on the GABA response; it allosterically potentiated currents at low concentrations, whereas it inhibited currents at higher concentrations. The allosteric potentiating action on GABAA receptors was pronounced in the α1β2γ2, α2β2γ2 and α4β2γ2 configurations, greatly diminished in the α6β2γ2 configuration, and completely absent in the α3β2γ2 or α5β2γ2 configuration. In stark contrast, the inhibitory modulation of efavirenz at higher concentrations was evident in all subunit configurations examined. Moreover, efavirenz-induced modulatory effects were dependent on GABA concentration ([GABA]), with a pronounced impact on currents activated by low [GABA] but little effect at saturating [GABA]. Mutation of a highly-conserved threonine to phenylalanine in transmembrane domain 2 of the α1 subunit abolished the inhibitory effect of efavirenz in α1β2 receptors. Finally, mutations of any of the three conserved extracellular residues in α1/2/4 subunits to the conserved residues at the corresponding positions in α3/5 subunits (i.e., R84P, M89L or I120L) completely eliminated the potentiating effect of efavirenz in α1β2γ2 configuration. These findings demonstrate that efavirenz's positive allosteric modulation of the GABAA receptor is mediated via a novel allosteric site associated with the extracellular domain of the receptor.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)167-178
Number of pages12
StatePublished - 15 Jul 2017


  • AIDS
  • Adverse CNS side effects
  • Antiretroviral
  • Picrotoxin
  • Recombinant GABA receptors


Dive into the research topics of 'The dual modulatory effects of efavirenz on GABAA receptors are mediated via two distinct sites'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this