Neurones were dissociated from thoracic ganglia of embryonic and adult lobsters and kept in primary culture. When gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) was applied by pressure ejection, depolarizing or hyperpolarizing responses were produced, depending on the membrane potential. They were accompanied by an increase in membrane conductance. When they were present, action potential firing was inhibited. The pharmacological profile and ionic mechanism of GABA-evoked current were investigated under voltage-clamp with the whole-cell patch-clamp technique. The reversal potential of GABA-evoked current depended on the intracellular and extracellular Cl- concentration but not on extracellular Na+ and K+. Blockade of Ca2+ channels by Mn2+ was also without effect. The GABA-evoked current was mimicked by application of the GABAA agonists muscimol and isoguvacine with an order of potency muscimol>GABA>isoguvacine. cis-4-aminocrotonic acid (CACA), a folded and conformationally restricted GABA analogue, supposed to be diagnostic for the vertebrate GABAC receptor, also induced a bicuculline-resistant chloride current, although with a potency about 10 times lower than that of GABA. The GABA-evoked current was largely blocked by picrotoxin, but was insensitive to the GABAA antagonists bicuculline, bicuculline methiodide and SR 95531 at concentrations of up to 100 µmol l-1. Diazepam and phenobarbital did not exert modulatory effects. The GABAB antagonist phaclophen did not affect the GABA-induced current, while the GABAB agonists baclophen and 3-aminopropylphosphonic acid (3-APA) never evoked any response. Our results suggest that lobster thoracic neurones in culture express a chloride-conducting GABA-receptor channel which conforms to neither the GABAA nor the GABAB types of vertebrates but shows a pharmacology close to that of the novel GABAC receptor described in the vertebrate retina.

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