A gut feeling about GABA: focus on GABA(B) receptors

Alimentary Pharmabiotic Centre and Department of Pharmacology and Therapeutics, University College Cork Cork, Ireland.
Frontiers in Pharmacology (Impact Factor: 3.8). 10/2010; 1:124. DOI: 10.3389/fphar.2010.00124
Source: PubMed


γ-Aminobutyric acid (GABA) is the main inhibitory neurotransmitter in the body and hence GABA-mediated neurotransmission regulates many physiological functions, including those in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. GABA is located throughout the GI tract and is found in enteric nerves as well as in endocrine-like cells, implicating GABA as both a neurotransmitter and an endocrine mediator influencing GI function. GABA mediates its effects via GABA receptors which are either ionotropic GABA(A) or metabotropic GABA(B). The latter which respond to the agonist baclofen have been least characterized, however accumulating data suggest that they play a key role in GI function in health and disease. Like GABA, GABA(B) receptors have been detected throughout the gut of several species in the enteric nervous system, muscle, epithelial layers as well as on endocrine-like cells. Such widespread distribution of this metabotropic GABA receptor is consistent with its significant modulatory role over intestinal motility, gastric emptying, gastric acid secretion, transient lower esophageal sphincter relaxation and visceral sensation of painful colonic stimuli. More intriguing findings, the mechanisms underlying which have yet to be determined, suggest GABA(B) receptors inhibit GI carcinogenesis and tumor growth. Therefore, the diversity of GI functions regulated by GABA(B) receptors makes it a potentially useful target in the treatment of several GI disorders. In light of the development of novel compounds such as peripherally acting GABA(B) receptor agonists, positive allosteric modulators of the GABA(B) receptor and GABA producing enteric bacteria, we review and summarize current knowledge on the function of GABA(B) receptors within the GI tract.

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