Many membrane proteins, including the GABAA [GABA (γ-aminobutyric acid) type A] receptors, are oligomers often built from different subunits. As an example, the major adult isoform of the GABAA receptor is a pentamer built from three different subunits. Theoretically, co-expression of three subunits may result in many different receptor pentamers. Subunit concatenation allows us to pre-define the relative arrangement of the subunits. This method may thus be used to study receptor architecture, but also the nature of binding sites. Indeed, it made possible the discovery of a novel benzodiazepine site. We use here subunit concatenation to study δ-subunit-containing GABAA receptors. We provide evidence for the formation of different functional subunit arrangements in recombinant α1β3δ and α6β3δ receptors. As with all valuable techniques, subunit concatenation has also some pitfalls. Most of these can be avoided by carefully titrating and minimizing the length of the linker sequences joining the two linked subunits and avoiding inclusion of the signal sequence of all but the N-terminal subunit of a multi-subunit construct. Maybe the most common error found in the literature is that low expression can be overcome by simply overloading the expression system with genetic information. As some concatenated constructs result by themselves in a low level of expression, this erroneous assembly leading to receptor function may be promoted by overloading the expression system and leads to wrong conclusions.
Use of concatamers to study GABAA receptor architecture and function: application to δ-subunit-containing receptors and possible pitfalls
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Erwin Sigel, Kuldeep H. Kaur, Benjamin P. Lüscher, Roland Baur; Use of concatamers to study GABAA receptor architecture and function: application to δ-subunit-containing receptors and possible pitfalls. Biochem Soc Trans 1 December 2009; 37 (6): 1338–1342. doi: https://doi.org/10.1042/BST0371338
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