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1.  The Glycinergic System in Human Startle Disease: A Genetic Screening Approach 
Human startle disease, also known as hyperekplexia (OMIM 149400), is a paroxysmal neurological disorder caused by defects in glycinergic neurotransmission. Hyperekplexia is characterised by an exaggerated startle reflex in response to tactile or acoustic stimuli which first presents as neonatal hypertonia, followed in some with episodes of life-threatening infantile apnoea. Genetic screening studies have demonstrated that hyperekplexia is genetically heterogeneous with several missense and nonsense mutations in the postsynaptic glycine receptor (GlyR) α1 subunit gene (GLRA1) as the primary cause. More recently, missense, nonsense and frameshift mutations have also been identified in the glycine transporter GlyT2 gene, SLC6A5, demonstrating a presynaptic component to this disease. Further mutations, albeit rare, have been identified in the genes encoding the GlyR β subunit (GLRB), collybistin (ARHGEF9) and gephyrin (GPHN) – all of which are postsynaptic proteins involved in orchestrating glycinergic neurotransmission. In this review, we describe the clinical ascertainment aspects, phenotypic considerations and the downstream molecular genetic tools utilised to analyse both presynaptic and postsynaptic components of this heterogeneous human neurological disorder. Moreover, we will describe how the ancient startle response is the preserve of glycinergic neurotransmission and how animal models and human hyperekplexia patients have provided synergistic evidence that implicates this inhibitory system in the control of startle reflexes.
PMCID: PMC2854534  PMID: 20407582
glycine; hyperekplexia; receptor; transporter; mutation
2.  A Critical Role for Glycine Transporters in Hyperexcitability Disorders 
Defects in mammalian glycinergic neurotransmission result in a complex motor disorder characterized by neonatal hypertonia and an exaggerated startle reflex, known as hyperekplexia (OMIM 149400). This affects newborn children and is characterized by noise or touch-induced seizures that result in muscle stiffness and breath-holding episodes. Although rare, this disorder can have serious consequences, including brain damage and/or sudden infant death. The primary cause of hyperekplexia is missense and non-sense mutations in the glycine receptor (GlyR) α1 subunit gene (GLRA1) on chromosome 5q33.1, although we have also discovered rare mutations in the genes encoding the GlyR β subunit (GLRB) and the GlyR clustering proteins gephyrin (GPNH) and collybistin (ARHGEF9). Recent studies of the Na+/Cl−-dependent glycine transporters GlyT1 and GlyT2 using mouse knockout models and human genetics have revealed that mutations in GlyT2 are a second major cause of hyperekplexia, while the phenotype of the GlyT1 knockout mouse resembles a devastating neurological disorder known as glycine encephalopathy (OMIM 605899). These findings highlight the importance of these transporters in regulating the levels of synaptic glycine.
PMCID: PMC2526004  PMID: 18946534
glycine transporters; GlyT1; GlyT2; VIAAT; hyperekplexia; startle disease; glycine encephalopathy
3.  Mutations in the human GlyT2 gene define a presynaptic component of human startle disease 
Nature genetics  2006;38(7):801-806.
Hyperekplexia is a human neurological disorder characterized by an excessive startle response and is typically caused by missense and nonsense mutations in the gene encoding the inhibitory glycine receptor (GlyR) α1 subunit (GLRA1)1-3. Genetic heterogeneity has been confirmed in isolated sporadic cases with mutations in other postsynaptic glycinergic proteins including the GlyR β subunit (GLRB)4, gephyrin (GPHN)5 and RhoGEF collybistin (ARHGEF9)6. However, many sporadic patients diagnosed with hyperekplexia do not carry mutations in these genes2-7. Here we reveal that missense, nonsense and frameshift mutations in the presynaptic glycine transporter 2 (GlyT2) gene (SLC6A5)8 also cause hyperekplexia. Patients harbouring mutations in SLC6A5 presented with hypertonia, an exaggerated startle response to tactile or acoustic stimuli, and life-threatening neonatal apnoea episodes. GlyT2 mutations result in defective subcellular localisation and/or decreased glycine uptake, with selected mutations affecting predicted glycine and Na+ binding sites. Our results demonstrate that SLC6A5 is a major gene for hyperekplexia and define the first neurological disorder linked to mutations in a Na+/Cl−-dependent transporter for a classical fast neurotransmitter. By analogy, we suggest that in other human disorders where defects in postsynaptic receptors have been identified, similar symptoms could result from defects in the cognate presynaptic neurotransmitter transporter.
PMCID: PMC3204411  PMID: 16751771
4.  Glycine receptor mutants of the mouse: what are possible routes of inhibitory compensation? 
Defects in glycinergic inhibition result in a complex neuromotor disorder in humans known as hyperekplexia (OMIM 149400) with similar phenotypes in rodents characterized by an exaggerated startle reflex and hypertonia. Analogous to genetic defects in humans single point mutations, microdeletions, or insertions in the Glra1 gene but also in the Glrb gene underlie the pathology in mice. The mutations either localized in the α (spasmodic, oscillator, cincinnati, Nmf11) or the β (spastic) subunit of the glycine receptor (GlyR) are much less tolerated in mice than in humans, leaving the question for the existence of different regulatory elements of the pathomechanisms in humans and rodents. In addition to the spontaneous mutations, new insights into understanding of the regulatory pathways in hyperekplexia or glycine encephalopathy arose from the constantly increasing number of knock-out as well as knock-in mutants of GlyRs. Over the last five years, various efforts using in vivo whole cell recordings provided a detailed analysis of the kinetic parameters underlying glycinergic dysfunction. Presynaptic compensation as well as postsynaptic compensatory mechanisms in these mice by other GlyR subunits or GABAA receptors, and the role of extra-synaptic GlyRs is still a matter of debate. A recent study on the mouse mutant oscillator displayed a novel aspect for compensation of functionality by complementation of receptor domains that fold independently. This review focuses on defects in glycinergic neurotransmission in mice discussed with the background of human hyperekplexia en route to strategies of compensation.
PMCID: PMC3484359  PMID: 23118727
GlyRs; synaptic inhibition; spontaneous mouse mutants; knockout mice; hyperekplexia; rescue
5.  Defective Glycinergic Synaptic Transmission in Zebrafish Motility Mutants 
Glycine is a major inhibitory neurotransmitter in the spinal cord and brainstem. Recently, in vivo analysis of glycinergic synaptic transmission has been pursued in zebrafish using molecular genetics. An ENU mutagenesis screen identified two behavioral mutants that are defective in glycinergic synaptic transmission. Zebrafish bandoneon (beo) mutants have a defect in glrbb, one of the duplicated glycine receptor (GlyR) β subunit genes. These mutants exhibit a loss of glycinergic synaptic transmission due to a lack of synaptic aggregation of GlyRs. Due to the consequent loss of reciprocal inhibition of motor circuits between the two sides of the spinal cord, motor neurons activate simultaneously on both sides resulting in bilateral contraction of axial muscles of beo mutants, eliciting the so-called ‘accordion’ phenotype. Similar defects in GlyR subunit genes have been observed in several mammals and are the basis for human hyperekplexia/startle disease. By contrast, zebrafish shocked (sho) mutants have a defect in slc6a9, encoding GlyT1, a glycine transporter that is expressed by astroglial cells surrounding the glycinergic synapse in the hindbrain and spinal cord. GlyT1 mediates rapid uptake of glycine from the synaptic cleft, terminating synaptic transmission. In zebrafish sho mutants, there appears to be elevated extracellular glycine resulting in persistent inhibition of postsynaptic neurons and subsequent reduced motility, causing the ‘twitch-once’ phenotype. We review current knowledge regarding zebrafish ‘accordion’ and ‘twitch-once’ mutants, including beo and sho, and report the identification of a new α2 subunit that revises the phylogeny of zebrafish GlyRs.
PMCID: PMC2813725  PMID: 20161699
glycine; synapse; receptor; transporter; zebrafish; behavior; motility
6.  Constitutive Endocytosis and Turnover of the Neuronal Glycine Transporter GlyT2 Is Dependent on Ubiquitination of a C-Terminal Lysine Cluster 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(3):e58863.
Inhibitory glycinergic neurotransmission is terminated by sodium and chloride-dependent plasma membrane glycine transporters (GlyTs). The mainly glial glycine transporter GlyT1 is primarily responsible for the completion of inhibitory neurotransmission and the neuronal glycine transporter GlyT2 mediates the reuptake of the neurotransmitter that is used to refill synaptic vesicles in the terminal, a fundamental role in the physiology and pathology of glycinergic neurotransmission. Indeed, inhibitory glycinergic neurotransmission is modulated by the exocytosis and endocytosis of GlyT2. We previously reported that constitutive and Protein Kinase C (PKC)-regulated endocytosis of GlyT2 is mediated by clathrin and that PKC accelerates GlyT2 endocytosis by increasing its ubiquitination. However, the role of ubiquitination in the constitutive endocytosis and turnover of this protein remains unexplored. Here, we show that ubiquitination of a C-terminus four lysine cluster of GlyT2 is required for constitutive endocytosis, sorting into the slow recycling pathway and turnover of the transporter. Ubiquitination negatively modulates the turnover of GlyT2, such that increased ubiquitination driven by PKC activation accelerates transporter degradation rate shortening its half-life while decreased ubiquitination increases transporter stability. Finally, ubiquitination of GlyT2 in neurons is highly responsive to the free pool of ubiquitin, suggesting that the deubiquitinating enzyme (DUB) ubiquitin C-terminal hydrolase-L1 (UCHL1), as the major regulator of neuronal ubiquitin homeostasis, indirectly modulates the turnover of GlyT2. Our results contribute to the elucidation of the mechanisms underlying the dynamic trafficking of this important neuronal protein which has pathological relevance since mutations in the GlyT2 gene (SLC6A5) are the second most common cause of human hyperekplexia.
PMCID: PMC3590132  PMID: 23484054
7.  Glycine receptor mouse mutants: model systems for human hyperekplexia 
British Journal of Pharmacology  2013;170(5):933-952.
Human hyperekplexia is a neuromotor disorder caused by disturbances in inhibitory glycine-mediated neurotransmission. Mutations in genes encoding for glycine receptor subunits or associated proteins, such as GLRA1, GLRB, GPHN and ARHGEF9, have been detected in patients suffering from hyperekplexia. Classical symptoms are exaggerated startle attacks upon unexpected acoustic or tactile stimuli, massive tremor, loss of postural control during startle and apnoea. Usually patients are treated with clonazepam, this helps to dampen the severe symptoms most probably by up-regulating GABAergic responses. However, the mechanism is not completely understood. Similar neuromotor phenotypes have been observed in mouse models that carry glycine receptor mutations. These mouse models serve as excellent tools for analysing the underlying pathomechanisms. Yet, studies in mutant mice looking for postsynaptic compensation of glycinergic dysfunction via an up-regulation in GABAA receptor numbers have failed, as expression levels were similar to those in wild-type mice. However, presynaptic adaptation mechanisms with an unusual switch from mixed GABA/glycinergic to GABAergic presynaptic terminals have been observed. Whether this presynaptic adaptation explains the improvement in symptoms or other compensation mechanisms exist is still under investigation. With the help of spontaneous glycine receptor mouse mutants, knock-in and knock-out studies, it is possible to associate behavioural changes with pharmacological differences in glycinergic inhibition. This review focuses on the structural and functional characteristics of the various mouse models used to elucidate the underlying signal transduction pathways and adaptation processes and describes a novel route that uses gene-therapeutic modulation of mutated receptors to overcome loss of function mutations.
PMCID: PMC3949644  PMID: 23941355
glycine receptor; mouse models; spontaneous; knock-in; domain complementation
8.  The GLRA1 Missense Mutation W170S Associates Lack of Zn2+ Potentiation with Human Hyperekplexia 
The Journal of Neuroscience  2013;33(45):17675-17681.
Hyperekplexia is a neurological disorder associated primarily with mutations in the α1 subunit of glycine receptors (GlyRs) that lead to dysfunction of glycinergic inhibitory transmission. To date, most of the identified mutations result in disruption of surface expression or altered channel properties of α1-containing GlyRs. Little evidence has emerged to support an involvement of allosteric GlyR modulation in human hyperekplexia. Here, we report that recombinant human GlyRs containing α1 or α1β subunits with a missense mutation in the α1 subunit (W170S), previously identified from familial hyperekplexia, caused remarkably reduced potentiation and enhanced inhibition by Zn2+. Interestingly, mutant α1W170Sβ GlyRs displayed no significant changes in potency or maximum response to glycine, taurine, or β-alanine. By temporally separating the potentiating and the inhibitory effects of Zn2+, we found that the enhancement of Zn2+ inhibition resulted from a loss of Zn2+-mediated potentiation. The W170S mutation on the background of H107N, which was previously reported to selectively disrupt Zn2+ inhibition, showed remarkable attenuation of Zn2+-mediated potentiation and thus indicated that W170 is an important residue for the Zn2+-mediated GlyR potentiation. Moreover, overexpressing the α1W170S subunit in cultured rat neurons confirmed the results from heterologous expression. Together, our results reveal a new zinc potentiation site on α1 GlyRs and a strong link between Zn2+ modulation and human disease.
PMCID: PMC3873627  PMID: 24198360
9.  The impact of human hyperekplexia mutations on glycine receptor structure and function 
Molecular Brain  2014;7:2.
Hyperekplexia is a rare neurological disorder characterized by neonatal hypertonia, exaggerated startle responses to unexpected stimuli and a variable incidence of apnoea, intellectual disability and delays in speech acquisition. The majority of motor defects are successfully treated by clonazepam. Hyperekplexia is caused by hereditary mutations that disrupt the functioning of inhibitory glycinergic synapses in neuromotor pathways of the spinal cord and brainstem. The human glycine receptor α1 and β subunits, which predominate at these synapses, are the major targets of mutations. International genetic screening programs, that together have analysed several hundred probands, have recently generated a clear picture of genotype-phenotype correlations and the prevalence of different categories of hyperekplexia mutations. Focusing largely on this new information, this review seeks to summarise the effects of mutations on glycine receptor structure and function and how these functional alterations lead to hyperekplexia.
PMCID: PMC3895786  PMID: 24405574
Cys-loop receptor; Ligand-gated ion channel; Chloride channel; Startle disease; Glycinergic neurotransmission
10.  Hyperekplexia in neonates 
Postgraduate Medical Journal  2001;77(911):570-572.
Hyperekplexia (startle disease) is a rare non-epileptic disorder characterised by an exaggerated persistent startle reaction to unexpected auditory, somatosensory and visual stimuli, generalised muscular rigidity, and nocturnal myoclonus. The genetic basis is a mutation usually of the arginine residue 271 leading to neuronal hyperexcitability by impairing glycinergic inhibition. Hyperekplexia is usually familial, most often autosomal dominant with complete penetrance and variable expression. It can present in fetal life as abnormal intrauterine movements, or later at any time from the neonatal period to adulthood. Early manifestations include abnormal responses to unexpected auditory, visual, and somatosensory stimuli such as sustained tonic spasm, exaggerated startle response, and fetal posture with clenched fists and anxious stare. The tonic spasms may mimic generalised tonic seizures, leading to apnoea and death. Consistent generalised flexor spasm in response to tapping of the nasal bridge (without habituation) is the clinical hallmark of hyperekplexia. Electroencephalography may show fast spikes initially during the tonic spasms, followed by slowing of background activity with eventual flattening corresponding to the phase of apnoea bradycardia and cyanosis. Electromyography shows a characteristic almost permanent muscular activity with periods of electrical quietness. Nerve conduction velocity is normal. No specific computed tomography findings have been reported yet. Clonazepam, a gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA) receptor agonist, is the treatment of choice for hypertonia and apnoeic episodes. It, however, may not influence the degree of stiffness significantly. A simple manoeuvre like forced flexion of the head and legs towards the trunk is known to be life saving when prolonged stiffness impedes respiration.

Keywords: hyperekplexia; neonates; startle
PMCID: PMC1757896  PMID: 11524514
11.  A MusD Retrotransposon Insertion in the Mouse Slc6a5 Gene Causes Alterations in Neuromuscular Junction Maturation and Behavioral Phenotypes 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(1):e30217.
Glycine is the major inhibitory neurotransmitter in the spinal cord and some brain regions. The presynaptic glycine transporter, GlyT2, is required for sustained glycinergic transmission through presynaptic reuptake and recycling of glycine. Mutations in SLC6A5, encoding GlyT2, cause hereditary hyperekplexia in humans, and similar phenotypes in knock-out mice, and variants are associated with schizophrenia. We identified a spontaneous mutation in mouse Slc6a5, caused by a MusD retrotransposon insertion. The GlyT2 protein is undetectable in homozygous mutants, indicating a null allele. Homozygous mutant mice are normal at birth, but develop handling-induced spasms at five days of age, and only survive for two weeks, but allow the study of early activity-regulated developmental processes. At the neuromuscular junction, synapse elimination and the switch from embryonic to adult acetylcholine receptor subunits are hastened, consistent with a presumed increase in motor neuron activity, and transcription of acetylcholine receptors is elevated. Heterozygous mice, which show no reduction in lifespan but nonetheless have reduced levels of GlyT2, have a normal thermal sensitivity with the hot-plate test, but differences in repetitive grooming and decreased sleep time with home-cage monitoring. Open-field and elevated plus-maze tests did not detect anxiety-like behaviors; however, the latter showed a hyperactivity phenotype. Importantly, grooming and hyperactivity are observed in mouse schizophrenia models. Thus, mutations in Slc6a5 show changes in neuromuscular junction development as homozygotes, and behavioral phenotypes as heterozygotes, indicating their usefulness for studies related to glycinergic dysfunction.
PMCID: PMC3260239  PMID: 22272310
12.  Transient neuromotor phenotype in transgenic spastic mice expressing low levels of glycine receptor β-subunit: an animal model of startle disease 
Startle disease or hereditary hyperekplexia has been shown to result from mutations in the α1-subunit gene of the inhibitory glycine receptor (GlyR). In hyperekplexia patients, neuromotor symptoms generally become apparent at birth, improve with age, and often disappear in adulthood. Loss-of-function mutations of GlyR α or β-subunits in mice show rather severe neuromotor phenotypes. Here, we generated mutant mice with a transient neuromotor deficiency by introducing a GlyR β transgene into the spastic mouse (spa/spa), a recessive mutant carrying a transposon insertion within the GlyR β-subunit gene. In spa/spa TG456 mice, one of three strains generated with this construct, which expressed very low levels of GlyR β transgene-dependent mRNA and protein, the spastic phenotype was found to depend upon the transgene copy number. Notably, mice carrying two copies of the transgene showed an age-dependent sensitivity to tremor induction, which peaked at ∼ 3–4 weeks postnatally. This closely resembles the development of symptoms in human hyperekplexia patients, where motor coordination significantly improves after adolescence. The spa/spa TG456 line thus may serve as an animal model of human startle disease.
PMCID: PMC3655541  PMID: 10651857
glycine receptor; hereditary hyperekplexia; spa/spa TG456 mice; startle syndrome
13.  β Subunit M2–M3 Loop Conformational Changes Are Uncoupled from α1 β Glycine Receptor Channel Gating: Implications for Human Hereditary Hyperekplexia 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(11):e28105.
Hereditary hyperekplexia, or startle disease, is a neuromotor disorder caused mainly by mutations that either prevent the surface expression of, or modify the function of, the human heteromeric α1 β glycine receptor (GlyR) chloride channel. There is as yet no explanation as to why hyperekplexia mutations that modify channel function are almost exclusively located in the α1 to the exclusion of β subunit. The majority of these mutations are identified in the M2–M3 loop of the α1 subunit. Here we demonstrate that α1 β GlyR channel function is less sensitive to hyperekplexia-mimicking mutations introduced into the M2–M3 loop of the β than into the α1 subunit. This suggests that the M2–M3 loop of the α subunit dominates the β subunit in gating the α1 β GlyR channel. A further attempt to determine the possible mechanism underlying this phenomenon by using the voltage-clamp fluorometry technique revealed that agonist-induced conformational changes in the β subunit M2–M3 loop were uncoupled from α1 β GlyR channel gating. This is in contrast to the α subunit, where the M2–M3 loop conformational changes were shown to be directly coupled to α1 β GlyR channel gating. Finally, based on analysis of α1 β chimeric receptors, we demonstrate that the structural components responsible for this are distributed throughout the β subunit, implying that the β subunit has evolved without the functional constraint of a normal gating pathway within it. Our study provides a possible explanation of why hereditary hyperekplexia-causing mutations that modify α1 β GlyR channel function are almost exclusively located in the α1 to the exclusion of the β subunit.
PMCID: PMC3222680  PMID: 22132222
14.  Identification of a novel missense GLRA1 gene mutation in hyperekplexia: a case report 
Hereditary hyperekplexia is a neurological disorder characterized by excessive startle responses with violent jerking to noise or touch, stiffening of the trunk and limbs, clenching of the fists and attacks of a high-frequency trembling. Hyperekplexia has a heterogeneous genetic background with several identified causative genes and demonstrates both dominant and recessive inheritance. Mutations in the glycine receptor alpha 1 subunit gene occur in about 30 percent of hyperekplexia cases.
Case presentation
In this study, we report the case of a Hungarian boy whose abnormal movements, muscle stiffness and convulsions were first noted when he was 4 days old. Neurological and electrophysiological investigation suggested the clinical diagnosis of hyperekplexia.
Direct sequencing of the coding regions and the flanking introns of the glycine receptor alpha 1 subunit gene revealed a novel heterozygous missense mutation (c.211A/T, p.Ile71Phe). Genetic screening of our patient’s family revealed that the clinically unaffected parents and sister do not carry the mutation, suggesting that the identified sequence change is a de novo mutation. Since hyperekplexia can have severe consequences, including sudden infant death due to laryngospasm and cardiorespiratory failure, identification of the causative genetic alteration(s) of the disease is high priority. Such knowledge is necessary for prenatal diagnosis, which would allow informed family planning and greater parental sensitivity to hyperekplexia 1-associated risks.
PMCID: PMC4096538  PMID: 24969041
Stiff-baby syndrome; Hereditary hyperekplexia; GLRA1 gene; Missense mutation
15.  A Balanced Chromosomal Translocation Disrupting ARHGEF9 Is Associated With Epilepsy, Anxiety, Aggression, and Mental Retardation 
Human mutation  2009;30(1):61-68.
Clustering of inhibitory γ-aminobutyric acidA (GABAA) and glycine receptors at synapses is thought to involve key interactions between the receptors, a “scaffolding” protein known as gephyrin and the RhoGEF collybistin. We report the identification of a balanced chromosomal translocation in a female patient presenting with a disturbed sleep-wake cycle, late-onset epileptic seizures, increased anxiety, aggressive behavior, and mental retardation, but not hyperekplexia. Fine mapping of the breakpoint indicates disruption of the collybistin gene (ARHGEF9) on chromosome Xq11, while the other breakpoint lies in a region of 18q11 that lacks any known or predicted genes. We show that defective collybistin transcripts are synthesized and exons 7–10 are replaced by cryptic exons from chromosomes X and 18. These mRNAs no longer encode the pleckstrin homology (PH) domain of collybistin, which we now show binds phosphatidylinositol-3-phosphate (PI3P/ PtdIns-3-P), a phosphoinositide with an emerging role in membrane trafficking and signal transduction, rather than phosphatidylinositol 3,4,5-trisphosphate (PIP3/PtdIns-3,4,5-P) as previously suggested in the “membrane activation model” of gephyrin clustering. Consistent with this finding, expression of truncated collybistin proteins in cultured neurons interferes with synaptic localization of endogenous gephyrin and GABAA receptors. These results suggest that collybistin has a key role in membrane trafficking of gephyrin and selected GABAA receptor subtypes involved in epilepsy, anxiety, aggression, insomnia, and learning and memory.
PMCID: PMC3621145  PMID: 18615734
GABAA receptors; glycine receptors; collybistin; ARHGEF9; gephyrin; clustering; anxiety; epilepsy; mental retardation; aggression
16.  Localization of Glycine Receptors in the Human Forebrain, Brainstem, and Cervical Spinal Cord: An Immunohistochemical Review 
Inhibitory neurotransmitter receptors for glycine (GlyR) are heteropentameric chloride ion channels that are comprised of four functional subunits, alpha1–3 and beta and that facilitate fast-response, inhibitory neurotransmission in the mammalian brain and spinal cord. We have investigated the distribution of GlyRs in the human forebrain, brainstem, and cervical spinal cord using immunohistochemistry at light and confocal laser scanning microscopy levels. This review will summarize the present knowledge on the GlyR distribution in the human brain using our established immunohistochemical techniques. The results of our immunohistochemical labeling studies demonstrated GlyR immunoreactivity (IR) throughout the human basal ganglia, substantia nigra, various pontine regions, rostral medulla oblongata and the cervical spinal cord present an intense and abundant punctate IR along the membranes of the neuronal soma and dendrites. This work is part of a systematic study of inhibitory neurotransmitter receptor distribution in the human CNS, and provides a basis for additional detailed physiological and pharmacological studies on the inter-relationship of GlyR, GABAAR and gephyrin in the human brain. This basic mapping exercise, we believe, will provide important baselines for the testing of future pharmacotherapies and drug regimes that modulate neuroinhibitory systems. These findings provide new information for understanding the complexity of glycinergic functions in the human brain, which will translate into the contribution of inhibitory mechanisms in paroxysmal disorders and neurodegenerative diseases such as Epilepsy, Huntington's and Parkinson's Disease and Motor Neuron Disease.
PMCID: PMC2776491  PMID: 19915682
human brain; glycine receptor; immunohistochemistry
17.  Novel missense mutations in the glycine receptor β subunit gene (GLRB) in startle disease 
Neurobiology of Disease  2013;52(C):137-149.
Startle disease is a rare, potentially fatal neuromotor disorder characterized by exaggerated startle reflexes and hypertonia in response to sudden unexpected auditory, visual or tactile stimuli. Mutations in the GlyR α1 subunit gene (GLRA1) are the major cause of this disorder, since remarkably few individuals with mutations in the GlyR β subunit gene (GLRB) have been found to date. Systematic DNA sequencing of GLRB in individuals with hyperekplexia revealed new missense mutations in GLRB, resulting in M177R, L285R and W310C substitutions. The recessive mutation M177R results in the insertion of a positively-charged residue into a hydrophobic pocket in the extracellular domain, resulting in an increased EC50 and decreased maximal responses of α1β GlyRs. The de novo mutation L285R results in the insertion of a positively-charged side chain into the pore-lining 9′ position. Mutations at this site are known to destabilize the channel closed state and produce spontaneously active channels. Consistent with this, we identified a leak conductance associated with spontaneous GlyR activity in cells expressing α1βL285R GlyRs. Peak currents were also reduced for α1βL285R GlyRs although glycine sensitivity was normal. W310C was predicted to interfere with hydrophobic side-chain stacking between M1, M2 and M3. We found that W310C had no effect on glycine sensitivity, but reduced maximal currents in α1β GlyRs in both homozygous (α1βW310C) and heterozygous (α1ββW310C) stoichiometries. Since mild startle symptoms were reported in W310C carriers, this may represent an example of incomplete dominance in startle disease, providing a potential genetic explanation for the ‘minor’ form of hyperekplexia.
► We report novel missense mutations in the GlyR β subunit gene causing startle disease. ► Mutation M177R in the extracellular domain decreases GlyR agonist affinity. ► Mutation L285R in TM2 produces spontaneously active channels. ► Mutation W310C in TM3 affects hydrophobic stacking and shows incomplete dominance. ► Mutations in GLRB have unique pathogenic mechanisms and modes of inheritance.
PMCID: PMC3581774  PMID: 23238346
GLRA1; GLRB; Glycine receptor; Hyperekplexia; Startle disease
18.  Disturbed Neuronal ER-Golgi Sorting of Unassembled Glycine Receptors Suggests Altered Subcellular Processing Is a Cause of Human Hyperekplexia 
The Journal of Neuroscience  2015;35(1):422-437.
Recent studies on the pathogenic mechanisms of recessive hyperekplexia indicate disturbances in glycine receptor (GlyR) α1 biogenesis. Here, we examine the properties of a range of novel glycine receptor mutants identified in human hyperekplexia patients using expression in transfected cell lines and primary neurons. All of the novel mutants localized in the large extracellular domain of the GlyR α1 have reduced cell surface expression with a high proportion of receptors being retained in the ER, although there is forward trafficking of glycosylated subpopulations into the ER-Golgi intermediate compartment and cis-Golgi compartment. CD spectroscopy revealed that the mutant receptors have proportions of secondary structural elements similar to wild-type receptors. Two mutants in loop B (G160R, T162M) were functional, but none of those in loop D/β2–3 were. One nonfunctional truncated mutant (R316X) could be rescued by coexpression with the lacking C-terminal domain. We conclude that a proportion of GlyR α1 mutants can be transported to the plasma membrane but do not necessarily form functional ion channels. We suggest that loop D/β2–3 is an important determinant for GlyR trafficking and functionality, whereas alterations to loop B alter agonist potencies, indicating that residues here are critical elements in ligand binding.
PMCID: PMC4287157  PMID: 25568133
assembly; biogenesis; glycine receptor; human hyperekplexia; rescue of function; subcompartimentalization
19.  Allosteric modulation of glycine receptors 
British Journal of Pharmacology  2011;164(2):224-236.
Inhibitory (or strychnine sensitive) glycine receptors (GlyRs) are anion-selective transmitter-gated ion channels of the cys-loop superfamily, which includes among others also the inhibitory γ-aminobutyric acid receptors (GABAA receptors). While GABA mediates fast inhibitory neurotransmission throughout the CNS, the action of glycine as a fast inhibitory neurotransmitter is more restricted. This probably explains why GABAA receptors constitute a group of extremely successful drug targets in the treatment of a wide variety of CNS diseases, including anxiety, sleep disorders and epilepsy, while drugs specifically targeting GlyRs are virtually lacking. However, the spatially more restricted distribution of glycinergic inhibition may be advantageous in situations when a more localized enhancement of inhibition is sought. Inhibitory GlyRs are particularly relevant for the control of excitability in the mammalian spinal cord, brain stem and a few selected brain areas, such as the cerebellum and the retina. At these sites, GlyRs regulate important physiological functions, including respiratory rhythms, motor control, muscle tone and sensory as well as pain processing. In the hippocampus, RNA-edited high affinity extrasynaptic GlyRs may contribute to the pathology of temporal lobe epilepsy. Although specific modulators have not yet been identified, GlyRs still possess sites for allosteric modulation by a number of structurally diverse molecules, including alcohols, neurosteroids, cannabinoids, tropeines, general anaesthetics, certain neurotransmitters and cations. This review summarizes the present knowledge about this modulation and the molecular bases of the interactions involved.
PMCID: PMC3174402  PMID: 21557733
allosteric modulation; cannabinoid; glycine; endocannabinoid; ethanol; glycine receptor; neurosteroids; tropeines; zinc
20.  Propofol Modulation of α1 Glycine Receptors Does Not Require a Structural Transition at Adjacent Subunits That Is Crucial to Agonist-Induced Activation 
ACS Chemical Neuroscience  2013;4(11):1469-1478.
Pentameric glycine receptors (GlyRs) couple agonist binding to activation of an intrinsic ion channel. Substitution of the R271 residue impairs agonist-induced activation and is associated with the human disease hyperekplexia. On the basis of a homology model of the α1 GlyR, we substituted residues in the vicinity of R271 with cysteines, generating R271C, Q226C, and D284C single-mutant GlyRs and R271C/Q226C and R271C/D284C double-mutant GlyRs. We then examined the impact of interactions between these positions on receptor activation by glycine and modulation by the anesthetic propofol, as measured by electrophysiological experiments. Upon expression in Xenopus laevis oocytes, D284C-containing receptors were nonfunctional, despite biochemical evidence of successful cell surface expression. At R271C/Q226C GlyRs, glycine-activated whole-cell currents were increased 3-fold in the presence of the thiol reductant dithiothreitol, whereas the ability of propofol to enhance glycine-activated currents was not affected by dithiothreitol. Biochemical experiments showed that mutant R271C/Q226C subunits form covalently linked pentamers, showing that intersubunit disulfide cross-links are formed. These data indicate that intersubunit disulfide links in the transmembrane domain prevent a structural transition that is crucial to agonist-induced activation of GlyRs but not to modulation by the anesthetic propofol and implicate D284 in the functional integrity of GlyRs.
PMCID: PMC3837372  PMID: 23992940
Ligand-gated ion channel; transmembrane domain; activation mechanism; propofol; cross-linking; Cys-loop receptor
21.  Serotonin receptor 1A–modulated phosphorylation of glycine receptor α3 controls breathing in mice 
The Journal of Clinical Investigation  2010;120(11):4118-4128.
Rhythmic breathing movements originate from a dispersed neuronal network in the medulla and pons. Here, we demonstrate that rhythmic activity of this respiratory network is affected by the phosphorylation status of the inhibitory glycine receptor α3 subtype (GlyRα3), which controls glutamatergic and glycinergic neuronal discharges, subject to serotonergic modulation. Serotonin receptor type 1A–specific (5-HTR1A–specific) modulation directly induced dephosphorylation of GlyRα3 receptors, which augmented inhibitory glycine-activated chloride currents in HEK293 cells coexpressing 5-HTR1A and GlyRα3. The 5-HTR1A–GlyRα3 signaling pathway was distinct from opioid receptor signaling and efficiently counteracted opioid-induced depression of breathing and consequential apnea in mice. Paradoxically, this rescue of breathing originated from enhanced glycinergic synaptic inhibition of glutamatergic and glycinergic neurons and caused disinhibition of their target neurons. Together, these effects changed respiratory phase alternations and ensured rhythmic breathing in vivo. GlyRα3-deficient mice had an irregular respiratory rhythm under baseline conditions, and systemic 5-HTR1A activation failed to remedy opioid-induced respiratory depression in these mice. Delineation of this 5-HTR1A–GlyRα3 signaling pathway offers a mechanistic basis for pharmacological treatment of opioid-induced apnea and other breathing disturbances caused by disorders of inhibitory synaptic transmission, such as hyperekplexia, hypoxia/ischemia, and brainstem infarction.
PMCID: PMC2964980  PMID: 20978350
22.  Development of glycinergic innervation to the murine LSO and SPN in the presence and absence of the MNTB 
Neurons in the superior olivary complex (SOC) integrate excitatory and inhibitory inputs to localize sounds in space. The majority of these inhibitory inputs have been thought to arise within the SOC from the medial nucleus of the trapezoid body (MNTB). However, recent work demonstrates that glycinergic innervation of the SOC persists in Egr2; En1CKO mice that lack MNTB neurons, suggesting that there are other sources of this innervation (Jalabi et al., 2013). To study the development of MNTB- and non-MNTB-derived glycinergic SOC innervation, we compared immunostaining patterns of glycine transporter 2 (GlyT2) at several postnatal ages in control and Egr2; En1CKO mice. GlyT2 immunostaining was present at birth (P0) in controls and reached adult levels by P7 in the superior paraolivary nucleus (SPN) and by P12 in the lateral superior olive (LSO). In Egr2; En1CKO mice, glycinergic innervation of the LSO developed at a similar rate but was delayed by one week in the SPN. Conversely, consistent reductions in the number of GlyT2+ boutons located on LSO somata were seen at all ages in Egr2; En1CKO mice, while these numbers reached control levels in the SPN by adulthood. Dendritic localization of GlyT2+ boutons was unaltered in both the LSO and SPN of adult Egr2; En1CKO mice. On the postsynaptic side, adult Egr2; En1CKO mice had reduced glycine receptor α1 (GlyRα1) expression in the LSO but normal levels in the SPN. GlyRα2 was not expressed by LSO or SPN neurons in either genotype. These findings contribute important information for understanding the development of MNTB- and non-MNTB-derived glycinergic pathways to the mouse SOC.
PMCID: PMC4162373  PMID: 25309335
hearing; deafness; mouse models; brain development; auditory system
23.  Distinct phenotypes in zebrafish models of human startle disease☆ 
Neurobiology of Disease  2013;60(100):139-151.
Startle disease is an inherited neurological disorder that causes affected individuals to suffer noise- or touch-induced non-epileptic seizures, excessive muscle stiffness and neonatal apnea episodes. Mutations known to cause startle disease have been identified in glycine receptor subunit (GLRA1 and GLRB) and glycine transporter (SLC6A5) genes, which serve essential functions at glycinergic synapses. Despite the significant successes in identifying startle disease mutations, many idiopathic cases remain unresolved. Exome sequencing in these individuals will identify new candidate genes. To validate these candidate disease genes, zebrafish is an ideal choice due to rapid knockdown strategies, accessible embryonic stages, and stereotyped behaviors. The only existing zebrafish model of startle disease, bandoneon (beo), harbors point mutations in glrbb (one of two zebrafish orthologs of human GLRB) that cause compromised glycinergic transmission and touch-induced bilateral muscle contractions. In order to further develop zebrafish as a model for startle disease, we sought to identify common phenotypic outcomes of knocking down zebrafish orthologs of two known startle disease genes, GLRA1 and GLRB, using splice site-targeted morpholinos. Although both morphants were expected to result in phenotypes similar to the zebrafish beo mutant, our direct comparison demonstrated that while both glra1 and glrbb morphants exhibited embryonic spasticity, only glrbb morphants exhibited bilateral contractions characteristic of beo mutants. Likewise, zebrafish over-expressing a dominant startle disease mutation (GlyR α1R271Q) exhibited spasticity but not bilateral contractions. Since GlyR βb can interact with GlyR α subunits 2–4 in addition to GlyR α1, loss of the GlyR βb subunit may produce more severe phenotypes by affecting multiple GlyR subtypes. Indeed, immunohistochemistry of glra1 morphants suggests that in zebrafish, alternate GlyR α subunits can compensate for the loss of the GlyR α1 subunit. To address the potential for interplay among GlyR subunits during development, we quantified the expression time-course for genes known to be critical to glycinergic synapse function. We found that GlyR α2, α3 and α4a are expressed in the correct temporal pattern and could compensate for the loss of the GlyR α1 subunit. Based on our findings, future studies that aim to model candidate startle disease genes in zebrafish should include measures of spasticity and synaptic development.
Graphical abstract
•Morpholinos and dominant-negative mutants disrupted GlyR α1 subunit function.•Spasticity and delayed onset of rhythmic motor behaviors were observed.•GlyR βb subunit morphants exhibit both spasticity and bilateral muscle contractions.•Bilateral contractions likely result from disrupting multiple GlyR subtypes.•Spasticity may provide a common zebrafish ‘startle’ phenotype.
PMCID: PMC3972633  PMID: 24029548
glra1; glrb; Glycine receptor; Startle disease; Hyperekplexia; Zebrafish
24.  A Confusing Coincidence: Neonatal Hypoglycemic Seizures and Hyperekplexia 
Case Reports in Medicine  2014;2014:595412.
Hyperekplexia is a rare, nonepileptic, genetic, or sporadic neurologic disorder characterized by startle responses to acoustic, optic, or tactile stimuli. Genetic defects in glycine receptors as well as encephalitis, tumors, inflammation, and disgenesis are among the etiologic causes of the disease. The main problem in hyperekplexia is the incomplete development of inhibitory mechanisms or exaggerated stimulation of excitatory mediators. Hyperekplexia is often confused with epileptic seizures. Here we present a case with hypoglycemic convulsions coexisting with hyperekplexia, causing diagnostic difficulty.
PMCID: PMC3982260  PMID: 24782896
25.  PKCβ–dependent phosphorylation of the glycine transporter 1 
Neurochemistry international  2011;59(8):1123-1132.
The extracellular levels of the neurotransmitter glycine in the brain are tightly regulated by the glycine transporter 1 (GlyT1) and the clearance rate for glycine depends on its rate of transport and the levels of cell surface GlyT1. Over the years, it has been shown that PKC tightly regulates the activity of several neurotransmitter transporters. In the present work, by stably expressing three N-terminus GlyT1 isoforms in porcine aortic endothelial cells and assaying for [32P]-orthophosphate metabolic labeling, we demonstrated that the isoforms GlyT1a, GlyT1b, and GlyT1c were constitutively phosphorylated, and that phosphorylation was dramatically enhanced, in a time dependent fashion, after PKC activation by phorbol ester. The phosphorylation was PKC-dependent, since pre-incubation of the cells with bisindolylmaleimide I, a selective PKC inhibitor, abolished the phorbol ester-induced phosphorylation. Blotting with specific anti-phospho-tyrosine antibodies did not yield any signal that could correspond to GlyT1 tyrosine phosphorylation, suggesting that the phosphorylation occurs at serine and/or threonine residues. In addition, a 23-40% -inhibition on Vmax was obtained by incubation with phorbol ester without a significant change on the apparent Km value. Furthermore, pre-incubation of the cells with the selective PKCα/β inhibitor Gö6976 abolished the downregulation effect of phorbol ester on uptake and phosphorylation, whereas the selective PKCβ inhibitors (PKCβ inhibitor or LY333531) prevented the phosphorylation without affecting glycine uptake, defining a specific role of classical PKC on GlyT1 uptake and phosphorylation. Taken together, these data suggest that phosphorylation that conventional PKCα/β regulates the uptake of glycine, whereas PKCβ is responsible for GlyT1 phosphorylation.
PMCID: PMC3226844  PMID: 21864610
phosphorylation; glycine; transporter; PKC

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