Zolpidem activation of alpha 1-containing GABAA receptors selectively inhibits high frequency action potential firing of cortical neurons

Elena Neumann, Uwe Rudolph, Daniel E. Knutson, Guanguan Li, James M. Cook, Harald Hentschke, Bernd Antkowiak, Berthold Drexler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Introduction: High frequency neuronal activity in the cerebral cortex can be induced by noxious stimulation during surgery, brain injury or poisoning. In this scenario, it is essential to block cortical hyperactivity to protect the brain against damage, e.g., by using drugs that act as positive allosteric modulators at GABAA receptors. Yet, cortical neurons express multiple, functionally distinct GABAA receptor subtypes. Currently there is a lack of knowledge which GABAA receptor subtypes would be a good pharmacological target to reduce extensive cortical activity. Methods: Spontaneous action potential activity was monitored by performing extracellular recordings from organotypic neocortical slice cultures of wild type and GABAAR-α1(H101R) mutant mice. Phases of high neuronal activity were characterized using peri-event time histograms. Drug effects on within-up state firing rates were quantified via Hedges’ g. Results: We quantified the effects of zolpidem, a positive modulator of GABAA receptors harboring α1-subunits, and the experimental benzodiazepine SH-053-2′F-S-CH3, which preferably acts at α2/3/5-but spares α1-subunits. Both agents decreased spontaneous action potential activity but altered the firing patterns in different ways. Zolpidem reduced action potential firing during highly active network states. This action was abolished by flumazenil, suggesting that it was mediated by benzodiazepine-sensitive GABAA receptors. SH-053-2′F-S-CH3 also attenuated neuronal activity, but unlike zolpidem, failed to reduce high frequency firing. To confirm that zolpidem actions were indeed mediated via α1-dependent actions, it was evaluated in slices from wild type and α(H101R) knock-in mice. Inhibition of high frequency action potential firing was observed in slices from wild type but not mutant mice. Conclusion: Our results suggest that during episodes of scarce and high neuronal activity action potential firing of cortical neurons is controlled by different GABAA receptor subtypes. Exaggerated firing of cortical neurons is reduced by positive modulation of α1-, but not α2/3/5-subunit containing GABAA receptors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number1523
JournalFrontiers in Pharmacology
Issue numberJAN
StatePublished - 2019


  • Benzodiazepines
  • Electrophysiology
  • GABAA receptor subtype specific drugs
  • GABAA receptor subtypes
  • Neocortex
  • Neocortical activity
  • Zolpidem

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology
  • Pharmacology (medical)


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