Neurosteroids are important modulators of neuronal excitability and nervous system development with enormous therapeutic potential as anti-depressants, anesthetics and neuro-protectants. The principal molecular target of neurosteroids is the GABAA receptor. We have shown that there are multiple, subunit- specific binding sites for neurosteroids on GABAA receptors, each of which contributes to the effects of neurosteroids on receptor expression and function. This project will use photolabeling techniques to define the precise sites of neurosteroid binding on the most abundant forms of synaptic and extrasynaptic GABAA receptors. Novel neurosteroid analogue photolabeling reagents will be developed and used to determine the number of neurosteroid binding sites on each subunit, to identify the binding sites and to determine the orientation of the neurosteroids in these sites. To achieve these goals we will utilize state-of-the-art protein chemistry and expression techniques in conjunction with cutting edge mass spectrometry (MS) methods, including middle-down, intact protein and native MS. We will then mutate amino acids in each of the identified binding sites and use functional readouts to determine which binding sites mediate the various effects of neurosteroids on GABAA receptor expression and function. The Project has two specific aims:
In Aim 1, a viral expression system (BacMam) will be used to express large quantities of synaptic (?1?2?2) and extrasynaptic (?4?3?) GABAA receptors and a suite of neurosteroid analogue photolabeling reagents will be synthesized in which the photolabeling moieties are placed at various positions around the neurosteroid backbone. The expressed receptors will be used in conjunction with the photolabeling reagents to determine the number of labeling sites on each subunit using intact protein MS and on each pentameric receptor using native MS. The specific amino acids modified by photolabeling will be identified using middle-down MS. The photolabeling data will then be used in conjunction with molecular modeling and docking to determine the preferred orientation of neurosteroids in each of the binding pockets and to identify critical residues which may be necessary for neurosteroid binding or effect.
In Aim 2 receptors will be expressed in which these critical residues are mutagenized. The mutant receptors will be used in functional assays (channel gating, trafficking of receptors to the surface and modulation of orthosteric ligand binding) to determine the contribution of each binding site to neurosteroid action(s). Neurosteroid labeling and orientation will be then be assessed in the mutated receptors (as in Aim 1) to determine how the mutations alter neurosteroid binding and/or effect. The data from these studies will provide insight into the specific molecular interactions underlying neurosteroid actions at each of its binding sites on GABAA receptors. These data will provide a structural template for development of subunit- and function-specific neurosteroid analogues as well as novel insights into neurosteroid biology.

Public Health Relevance

Neurosteroids are important both as drugs and as naturally occurring substances that influence brain development and behavior. The proposed research will define the specific binding sites for neurosteroids on various forms of their major target protein, the GABA type A receptor, and will define how each of these binding sites affects the protein's expression and function. The work will provide the basis for synthesizing neurosteroids that target specific forms of the GABA receptor and specific functions, leading to novel therapeutics and new insight into the biology of naturally occurring neurosteroids.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS)
Research Project (R01)
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Molecular Neuropharmacology and Signaling Study Section (MNPS)
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Falcon-Morales, Edgardo
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Washington University
Schools of Medicine
Saint Louis
United States
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Cheng, Wayland W L; Chen, Zi-Wei; Bracamontes, John R et al. (2018) Mapping two neurosteroid-modulatory sites in the prototypic pentameric ligand-gated ion channel GLIC. J Biol Chem 293:3013-3027
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Budelier, Melissa M; Cheng, Wayland W L; Bergdoll, Lucie et al. (2017) Photoaffinity labeling with cholesterol analogues precisely maps a cholesterol-binding site in voltage-dependent anion channel-1. J Biol Chem 292:9294-9304
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Eaton, Megan M; Cao, Lily Q; Chen, Ziwei et al. (2015) Mutational Analysis of the Putative High-Affinity Propofol Binding Site in Human ?3 Homomeric GABAA Receptors. Mol Pharmacol 88:736-45
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