Photopotentiation of the GABAA receptor with caged diazepam

Lorenzo Sansalone, Joshua Bratsch-Prince, Sicheng Tang, Burjor Captain, David D. Mott, Françisco M. Raymo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


As the inhibitory γ-aminobutyric acid–ergic (GABAergic) transmission has a pivotal role in the central nervous system (CNS) and defective forms of its synapses are associated with serious neurological disorders, numerous versions of caged GABA and, more recently, photoswitchable ligands have been developed to investigate such transmission. While the complementary nature of these probes is evident, the mechanisms by which the GABA receptors can be pho-tocontrolled have not been fully exploited. In fact, the ultimate need for specificity is critical for the proper synaptic exploration. No caged allosteric modulators of the GABAA receptor have been reported so far; to introduce such an investigational approach, we exploited the structural motifs of the benzodiazepinic scaffold to develop a pho-tocaged version of diazepam (CD) that was tested on basolateral amygdala (BLa) pyramidal cells in mouse brain slices. CD is devoid of any intrinsic activity toward the GABAA receptor before irradiation. Importantly, CD is a photoreleasable GABAA receptor-positive allosteric modulator that offers a different probing mechanism compared to caged GABA and photoswitchable ligands. CD potenti-ates the inhibitory signaling by prolonging the decay time of postsynaptic GABAergic currents upon photoactivation. Additionally, no effect on presynaptic GABA release was recorded. We developed a photochemical technology to individually study the GABAA receptor, which specifically expands the toolbox available to study GABAergic synapses.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)21176-21184
Number of pages9
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number42
StatePublished - 15 Oct 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • Benzodiazepines
  • Epilepsy
  • GABA
  • IPSCs
  • Photopharmacology


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