Identification of a Possible Secondary Picrotoxin-Binding Site on the GABA<sub>A</sub> Receptor

The type A GABA receptors (GABARs) are ligand-gated ion channels (LGICs) found in the brain and are the major inhibitory neurotransmitter receptors. Upon binding of an agonist, the GABAR opens and increases the intraneuronal concentration of chloride ions, thus hyperpolarizing the cell and inhibiting the transmission of the nerve action potential. GABARs also contain many other modulatory binding pockets that differ from the agonist-binding site. The composition of the GABAR subunits can alter the properties of these modulatory sites. Picrotoxin is a noncompetitive antagonist for LGICs, and by inhibiting GABAR, picrotoxin can cause overstimulation and induce convulsions. We use addition of picrotoxin to probe the characteristics and possible mechanism of an additional modulatory pocket located at the interface between the ligand-binding domain and the transmembrane domain of the GABAR. Picrotoxin is widely regarded as a pore-blocking agent that acts at the cytoplasmic end of the channel. However, there are also data to suggest that there may be an additional, secondary binding site for picrotoxin. Through homology modeling, molecular docking, and molecular dynamics simulations, we show that binding of picrotoxin to this interface pocket correlates with these data, and negative modulation occurs at the pocket via a kinking of the pore-lining helices into a more closed orientation.