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1.  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
2.  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
3.  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
4.  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
5.  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
6.  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
7.  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
8.  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
9.  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
10.  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
11.  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
12.  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
13.  4-Chloropropofol enhances chloride currents in human hyperekplexic and artificial mutated glycine receptors 
BMC Neurology  2012;12:104.
The mammalian neurological disorder hereditary hyperekplexia can be attributed to various mutations of strychnine sensitive glycine receptors. The clinical symptoms of “startle disease” predominantly occur in the newborn leading to convulsive hypertonia and an exaggerated startle response to unexpected mild stimuli. Amongst others, point mutations R271Q and R271L in the α1-subunit of strychnine sensitive glycine receptors show reduced glycine sensitivity and cause the clinical symptoms of hyperekplexia.
Halogenation has been shown to be a crucial structural determinant for the potency of a phenolic compound to positively modulate glycine receptor function.
The aim of this in vitro study was to characterize the effects of 4-chloropropofol (4-chloro-2,6-dimethylphenol) at four glycine receptor mutations.
Glycine receptor subunits were expressed in HEK 293 cells and experiments were performed using the whole-cell patch-clamp technique.
4-chloropropofol exerted a positive allosteric modulatory effect in a low sub-nanomolar concentration range at the wild type receptor (EC50 value of 0.08 ± 0.02 nM) and in a micromolar concentration range at the mutations (1.3 ± 0.6 μM, 0.1 ± 0.2 μM, 6.0 ± 2.3 μM and 55 ± 28 μM for R271Q, L, K and S267I, respectively).
4-chloropropofol might be an effective compound for the activation of mutated glycine receptors in experimental models of startle disease.
PMCID: PMC3517478  PMID: 23006332
Glycine receptor mutations; Hereditary hyperekplexia; 4-chloropropofol
14.  Analysis of GLRA1 in hereditary and sporadic hyperekplexia: a novel mutation in a family cosegregating for hyperekplexia and spastic paraparesis. 
Journal of Medical Genetics  1996;33(5):435-436.
Hyperekplexia is a rare condition characterised by the presence of neonatal hypertonia and an exaggerated startle response. Mutations have been described in GLRA1, the gene encoding the alpha 1 subunit of the glycine receptor, in dominant families with hyperekplexia and in a single sporadic case, thought to represent an autosomal recessive form of the disease. In this study the coding region of the GLRA1 was analysed in eight probands with hyperekplexia by restriction digest and sequencing. Two familial cases were found to possess the previously described G1192A (R271Q) mutation in exon 6. In an additional family in which hyperekplexia cosegregates with spastic paraparesis, a novel A to G transversion at nucleotide 1206 in exon 6 was detected that changes a lysine at amino acid 276 to a glutamate (K276E). In four sporadic cases no mutations were found. In addition, one familial case did not have a mutation in the coding region of the gene.
PMCID: PMC1050620  PMID: 8733061
15.  Hyperekplexia and stiff-man syndrome: abnormal brainstem reflexes suggest a physiological relationship 
Background and objectives: Hyperekplexia and the stiff-man syndrome (SMS) are both conditions with exaggerated startle suggesting abnormal brainstem function. Investigation of brainstem reflexes may provide insight into disturbed reflex excitation and inhibition underlying these movement disorders.
Patients and methods: Using four-channel EMG, we examined four trigeminal brainstem reflexes (monosynaptic masseter, masseter inhibitory, glabella, and orbicularis oculi blink reflexes) and their spread into pericranial muscles in five patients with familial hyperekplexia (FH), two with acquired hyperekplexia (AH), 10 with SMS, and 15 healthy control subjects.
Results: Both FH/AH and SMS patients had abnormal propagation of brainstem reflexes into pericranial muscles. All patients with hyperekplexia showed an abnormal short-latency (15–20 ms) reflex in the trapezius muscle with a characteristic clinical appearance ("head retraction jerk") evoked by tactile or electrical stimulation of the trigeminal nerve, but normal monosynaptic masseter reflexes. Inhibitory brainstem reflexes were attenuated in some FH/AH patients. Four of 10 patients with SMS had similar short-latency reflexes in the neck muscles and frequently showed widespread enhancement of other excitatory reflexes, reflex spasms, and attenuation of inhibitory brainstem reflexes.
Conclusion: Reflex excitation is exaggerated and inhibition is attenuated in both stiff-man syndrome and familial or acquired hyperekplexia, indicating a physiological relationship. Reflex transmission in the brainstem appears biased towards excitation which may imply dysfunction of inhibitory glycinergic or GABAergic interneurons, or both.
PMCID: PMC1739206  PMID: 15314112
16.  Hyperekplexia and trismus due to brainstem encephalopathy 
The brainstem is said to be the generator of pathological startle responses due to reticular reflex myoclonus or hyperekplexia. A patient with facial weakness, nystagmus, and pyramidal tract signs had generalised reflex spasms in response to auditory, visual and tactile stimuli which clinically and neurophysiologically resembled hyperekplexia. The case is unusual because as well as hyperekplexia, the patient's initial presentation was with an equally rare manifestation of brainstem pathology—brainstem mediated trismus. The causes of brainstem trismus and exaggerated startle responses are discussed with respect to their underlying mechanisms. 

PMCID: PMC2170153  PMID: 9667574
17.  Inhibitory Neurotransmission, Plasticity and Aging in the Mammalian Central Auditory System 
The Journal of experimental biology  2008;211(Pt 11):1781-1791.
Aging and acoustic trauma may result in partial peripheral deafferentation in the central auditory pathway of the mammalian brain. In accord with homeostatic plasticity, loss of sensory input results in a change in pre- and postsynaptic GABAergic and glycinergic inhibitory neurotransmission. As seen in development, age-related changes may be activity dependent. Age-related presynaptic changes in the cochlear nucleus include reduced glycine levels, while in the auditory midbrain and cortex, GABA synthesis and release are altered. Presumably, in response to age-related decreases in presynaptic release of inhibitory neurotransmitters, there are age-related postsynaptic subunit changes in the composition of the glycine (GlyR) and GABAA receptors (GABAAR). Age-related changes in the subunit makeup of inhibitory pentameric receptor constructs result in altered pharmacological and physiological responses consistent with a net down-regulation of functional inhibition. Age-related functional changes associated with glycine neurotransmission in dorsal cochlear nucleus (DCN) include altered intensity and temporal coding by DCN projection neurons. Loss of synaptic inhibition in the superior olivary complex (SOC) and the inferior colliculus (IC) likely affect the ability of aged animals to localize sounds in their natural environment. Age-related postsynaptic GABAAR changes in IC and primary auditory cortex (A1) involve changes in the subunit makeup of GABAARs. In turn, these changes cause age-related changes in the pharmacology and response properties of neurons in IC and A1 circuits which collectively may affect temporal processing and response reliability. Findings of age-related inhibitory changes within mammalian auditory circuits are similar to age and deafferentation plasticity changes observed in other sensory systems. Although few studies have examined sensory aging in the wild, these age-related changes would likely compromise an animal’s ability to avoid predation or to be a successful predator in their natural environment.
PMCID: PMC2409121  PMID: 18490394
18.  Glycinergic Synapse Development, Plasticity, and Homeostasis in Zebrafish 
The zebrafish glial glycine transporter 1 (GlyT1) mutant provides an animal model in which homeostatic plasticity at glycinergic synapses restores rhythmic motor behaviors. GlyT1 mutants, initially paralyzed by the build-up of the inhibitory neurotransmitter glycine, stage a gradual recovery that is associated with reductions in the strength of evoked glycinergic responses. Gradual motor recovery suggests sequential compensatory mechanisms that culminate in the down-regulation of the neuronal glycine receptor. However, how motor recovery is initiated and how other forms of plasticity contribute to behavioral recovery are still outstanding questions that we discuss in the context of (1) glycinergic synapses as they function in spinal circuits that produce rhythmic motor behaviors, (2) the proteins involved in regulating glycinergic synaptic strength, (3) current models of glycinergic synaptogenesis, and (4) plasticity mechanisms that modulate the strength of glycinergic synapses. Concluding remarks (5) explore the potential for distinct plasticity mechanisms to act in concert at different spatial and temporal scales to achieve a dynamic stability that results in balanced motor behaviors.
PMCID: PMC2815536  PMID: 20126315
glycinergic synapse; synaptic plasticity; GlyT1 mutant; glycine encephalopathy; motor behavior; zebrafish; glycine receptor; glial glycine transporter
19.  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
20.  Neuronal cotransport of glycine receptor and the scaffold protein gephyrin 
The Journal of Cell Biology  2006;172(3):441-451.
The dynamics of postsynaptic receptor scaffold formation and remodeling at inhibitory synapses remain largely unknown. Gephyrin, which is a multimeric scaffold protein, interacts with cytoskeletal elements and stabilizes glycine receptors (GlyRs) and individual subtypes of γ-aminobutyric acid A receptors at inhibitory postsynaptic sites. We report intracellular mobility of gephyrin transports packets over time. Gephyrin units enter and exit active synapses within several minutes. In addition to previous reports of GlyR–gephyrin interactions at plasma membranes, we show cosedimentation and coimmunoprecipitation of both proteins from vesicular fractions. Moreover, GlyR and gephyrin are cotransported within neuronal dendrites and further coimmunoprecipitate and colocalize with the dynein motor complex. As a result, the blockade of dynein function or dynein–gephyrin interaction, as well as the depolymerization of microtubules, interferes with retrograde gephyrin recruitment. Our data suggest a GlyR–gephyrin–dynein transport complex and support the concept that gephyrin–motor interactions contribute to the dynamic and activity-dependent rearrangement of postsynaptic GlyRs, a process thought to underlie the regulation of synaptic strength.
PMCID: PMC2063653  PMID: 16449194
21.  GlyT2+ Neurons in the Lateral Cerebellar Nucleus 
Cerebellum (London, England)  2009;9(1):42-55.
The deep cerebellar nuclei (DCN) are a major hub in the cerebellar circuitry but the functional classification of their neurons is incomplete. We have previously characterized three cell groups in the lateral cerebellar nucleus: large non-GABAergic neurons and two groups of smaller neurons, one of which express green fluorescence protein (GFP) in a GAD67/GFP mouse line and is therefore GABAergic. However, as a substantial number of glycinergic and glycine/GABA co-expressing neurons have been described in the DCN, this classification needed to be refined by considering glycinergic neurons. To this end we took advantage of a glycine transporter isoform 2 (GlyT2)-eGFP mouse line that allows identification of GlyT2-expressing, presumably glycinergic neurons in living cerebellar slices and compared their electrophysiological properties with previously described DCN neuron populations. We found two electrophysiologically and morphologically distinct sets of GlyT2-expressing neurons in the lateral cerebellar nucleus. One of them showed electrophysiological similarity to the previously characterized GABAergic cell group. The second GlyT2+ cell population, however, differed from all other so far described neuron types in DCN in that the cells (1) are intrinsically silent in slices and only fire action potentials upon depolarizing current injection and (2) have a projecting axon that was often seen to leave the DCN and project in the direction of the cerebellar cortex. Presence of this so far undescribed DCN neuron population in the lateral nucleus suggests a direct inhibitory pathway from the DCN to the cerebellar cortex.
PMCID: PMC2840673  PMID: 19826891
Cerebellum; Cerebellar nuclei; GlyT2; Glycinergic neuron; In vitro
22.  Pontine hyperperfusion in sporadic hyperekplexia 
To explore with neuroimaging techniques the anatomical and functional correlates of sporadic hyperekplexia.
Two elderly women with sporadic hyperekplexia underwent neurophysiological assessment, MRI of the brain and proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy (1H‐MRS) of the brainstem and frontal lobes. Regional cerebral blood flow was investigated with single photon emission tomography (SPECT) during evoked startles and at rest.
Both patients showed excessively large and non‐habituating startle responses. In both patients, MRI showed impingement of the brainstem by the vertebrobasilar artery, lack of frontal or brainstem abnormalities on 1H‐MRS and hyperperfusion in the dorsal pons and cingulate cortex, and superior frontal gyrus at SPECT during evoked startles.
In our patients with hyperekplexia, the vertebrobasilar arteries were found to impinge on the brainstem. Neurophysiological findings and neurofunctional imaging of evoked startles indicated a pontine origin of the movement disorder modulated by activation in cortical, especially frontal, areas. The neurofunctional correlates of evoked startles in human sporadic hyperekplexia are similar to those observed for the startle circuit in animals.
PMCID: PMC2117864  PMID: 17702784
23.  Distribution of Glycine/GABA Neurons in the Ventromedial Medulla with Descending Spinal Projections and Evidence for an Ascending Glycine/GABA Projection 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(4):e35293.
The ventromedial medulla (VM), subdivided in a rostral (RVM) and a caudal (CVM) part, has a powerful influence on the spinal cord. In this study, we have identified the distribution of glycine and GABA containing neurons in the VM with projections to the cervical spinal cord, the lumbar dorsal horn, and the lumbar ventral horn. For this purpose, we have combined retrograde tracing using fluorescent microspheres with fluorescent in situ hybridization (FISH) for glycine transporter 2 (GlyT2) and GAD67 mRNAs to identify glycinergic and/or GABAergic (Gly/GABA) neurons. Since the results obtained with FISH for GlyT2, GAD67, or GlyT2+GAD67 mRNAs were not significantly different, we concluded that glycine and GABA coexisted in the various projection neurons. After injections in the cervical cord, we found that 29%±1 (SEM) of the retrogradely labeled neurons in the VM were Gly/GABA (RVM: 43%; CVM: 21%). After lumbar dorsal horn injections 31%±3 of the VM neurons were Gly/GABA (RVM: 45%; CVM: 12%), and after lumbar ventral horn injections 25%±2 were Gly/GABA (RVM: 35%; CVM: 17%). In addition, we have identified a novel ascending Gly/GABA pathway originating from neurons in the area around the central canal (CC) throughout the spinal cord and projecting to the RVM, emphasizing the interaction between the ventromedial medulla and the spinal cord. The present study has now firmly established that GABA and glycine are present in many VM neurons that project to the spinal cord. These neurons strongly influence spinal processing, most notably the inhibition of nociceptive transmission.
PMCID: PMC3340372  PMID: 22558137
24.  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
25.  Glycine receptors and brain development 
Glycine receptors (GlyRs) are ligand-gated chloride ion channels that mediate fast inhibitory neurotransmission in the spinal cord and the brainstem. There, they are mainly involved in motor control and pain perception in the adult. However, these receptors are also expressed in upper regions of the central nervous system, where they participate in different processes including synaptic neurotransmission. Moreover, GlyRs are present since early stages of brain development and might influence this process. Here, we discuss the current state of the art regarding GlyRs during embryonic and postnatal brain development in light of recent findings about the cellular and molecular mechanisms that control brain development.
PMCID: PMC3800850  PMID: 24155690
glycine receptors; GlyRs; glycine; brain development; cortex; hippocampus; interneurons; migration

Results 1-25 (135119)