Background Taurine is one of the most abundant free amino acids especially in excitable tissues, with wide physiological actions. Chronic supplementation of taurine in drinking water to mice increases brain excitability mainly through alterations in the inhibitory GABAergic system. These changes include elevated expression level of glutamic acid decarboxylase (GAD) and increased levels of GABA. Additionally we reported that GABAA receptors were down regulated with chronic administration of taurine. Here, we investigated pharmacologically the functional significance of decreased / or change in subunit composition of the GABAA receptors by determining the threshold for picrotoxin-induced seizures. Picrotoxin, an antagonist of GABAA receptors that blocks the channels while in the open state, binds within the pore of the channel between the β2 and β3 subunits. These are the same subunits to which GABA and presumably taurine binds. Methods Two-month-old male FVB/NJ mice were subcutaneously injected with picrotoxin (5 mg kg-1) and observed for a) latency until seizures began, b) duration of seizures, and c) frequency of seizures. For taurine treatment, mice were either fed taurine in drinking water (0.05%) or injected (43 mg/kg) 15 min prior to picrotoxin injection. Results We found that taurine-fed mice are resistant to picrotoxin-induced seizures when compared to age-matched controls, as measured by increased latency to seizure, decreased occurrence of seizures and reduced mortality rate. In the picrotoxin-treated animals, latency and duration were significantly shorter than in taurine-treated animas. Injection of taurine 15 min before picrotoxin significantly delayed seizure onset, as did chronic administration of taurine in the diet. Further, taurine treatment significantly increased survival rates compared to the picrotoxin-treated mice. Conclusions We suggest that the elevated threshold for picrotoxin-induced seizures in taurine-fed mice is due to the reduced binding sites available for picrotoxin binding due to the reduced expression of the beta subunits of the GABAA receptor. The delayed effects of picrotoxin after acute taurine injection may indicate that the two molecules are competing for the same binding site on the GABAA receptor. Thus, taurine-fed mice have a functional alteration in the GABAergic system. These include: increased GAD expression, increased GABA levels, and changes in subunit composition of the GABAA receptors. Such a finding is relevant in conditions where agonists of GABAA receptors, such as anesthetics, are administered.
L’Amoreaux, W. J., Marsillo, A. & El Idrissi, A. (2010). Pharmacological characterization of GABAA receptors in taurine-fed mice. Journal of Biomedical Science, 17(Suppl 1), S14-S14. doi:10.1186/1423-0127-17-S1-S14.