Rescue of deficient amygdala tonic γ-aminobutyric acidergic currents in the Fmr–/y mouse model of fragile X syndrome by a novel γ-aminobutyric acid type A receptor-positive allosteric modulator
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Alterations in the ratio of excitatory to inhibitory transmission are emerging as a common component of many nervous system disorders, including autism spectrum disorders (ASDs). Tonic γ-aminobutyric acidergic (GABAergic) transmission provided by peri- and extrasynaptic GABA type A (GABAA) receptors powerfully controls neuronal excitability and plasticity and, therefore, provides a rational therapeutic target for normalizing hyperexcitable networks across a variety of disorders, including ASDs. Our previous studies revealed tonic GABAergic deficits in principal excitatory neurons in the basolateral amygdala (BLA) in the Fmr1–/y knockout (KO) mouse model fragile X syndrome. To correct amygdala deficits in tonic GABAergic neurotransmission in Fmr1–/y KO mice, we developed a novel positive allosteric modulator of GABAA receptors, SGE-872, based on endogenously active neurosteroids. This study shows that SGE-872 is nearly as potent and twice as efficacious for positively modulating GABAA receptors as its parent molecule, allopregnanolone. Furthermore, at submicromolar concentrations (≤1 μM), SGE-872 is selective for tonic, extrasynaptic α4β3δ-containing GABAA receptors over typical synaptic α1β2γ2 receptors. We further find that SGE-872 strikingly rescues the tonic GABAergic transmission deficit in principal excitatory neurons in the Fmr1–/y KO BLA, a structure heavily implicated in the neuropathology of ASDs. Therefore, the potent and selective action of SGE-872 on tonic GABAA receptors containing α4 subunits may represent a novel and highly useful therapeutic avenue for ASDs and related disorders involving hyperexcitability of neuronal networks.