GABAA receptor: a unique modulator of excitability, Ca2+ signaling, and catecholamine release of rat chromaffin cells

  • Tzitzitlini Alejandre-García
  • Johanna G. Peña-del Castillo
  • Arturo Hernández-CruzEmail author
Invited Review


The role of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in adrenal medulla chromaffin cell (CC) function is just beginning to unfold. GABA is stored in catecholamine (CA)-containing dense core granules and is presumably released together with CA, ATP, and opioids in response to physiological stimuli, playing an autocrine–paracrine role on CCs. The reported paradoxical “dual action” of GABAA-R activation (enhancement of CA secretion and inhibition of synaptically evoked CA release) is only one aspect of GABA’s multifaceted actions. In this review, we discuss recent physiological experiments on rat CCs in situ which suggest that GABA regulation of CC function may depend on the physiological context: During non-stressful conditions, GABAA-R activation by endogenous GABA tonically inhibits acetylcholine release from splanchnic nerve terminals and decreases spontaneous Ca2+ fluctuations in CCs, preventing unwanted CA secretion. During intense stress, splanchnic nerve terminals release acetylcholine, which depolarizes CCs and allows the Ca2+ influx that triggers the release of CA and GABA. With time, CA secretion declines, due to voltage-independent inhibition of Ca2+channels and desensitization of cholinergic nicotinic receptors. Nonetheless, acute activation of GABAA-R is depolarizing in about 50% of CCs, and thus GABA, acting as an autocrine/paracrine mediator, could help to maintain CA exocytosis under stress. GABAA-R activation is not excitatory in about half of CCs’ population because it hyperpolarizes them or elicits no response. This percentage possibly varies, depending on functional demands, since GABAA-R-mediated actions are determined by the intracellular chloride concentration ([Cl] i ) and therefore on the activity of cation-chloride co transporters, which is functionally regulated. These findings underscore a potential importance of a novel and complex GABA-mediated regulation of CC function and of CA secretion.


Intracellular calcium Adrenal medulla gland Chromaffin cell Endogenous GABA GABAA receptors Catecholamine secretion 



gamma-aminobutyric acid ()


GABAA receptors


GABAB receptors




intracellular Ca2+ concentration


intracellular chloride concentration


adrenal medulla chromaffin cells


spontaneous [Ca2+] i fluctuations


membrane potential



The authors wish to thank Dr. María Chávez Canales for helpful discussions and expert advice. The authors are also indebted to Nicolás Jiménez-Perez, Diana Millán-Aldaco, Arturo Picones Medina, and Ruth Rincón-Heredia for technical assistance and MVZ Claudia V. Rivera-Cerecedo for animal breeding and management. Alejandre-García T. and Peña del Castillo J. G. are Ph.D. students from the Programa de Doctorado en Ciencias Biológicas and Programa de Doctorado en Ciencias Biomédicas, respectively, of the Universidad Nacional Autonóma deMéxico (UNAM) and CONACyT Ph.D. fellows. This study was conducted as part of the Program’s requirements to obtain their Ph.D.

Funding information

The study is supported by grants 279820 (Laboratorio Nacional de Canalopatías) and CB 240305 from Consejo Nacional de Ciencia y Tecnología (CONACYT, México), PAPIIT IN211616 from Dirección General de Asuntos del Personal Académico (DGAPA-UNAM), and 039/2013 from Secretaría de Ciencia, Tecnología e Innovación del Distrito Federal (SECITI).

Compliance with ethical standards

Research involving animals complies with the guidelines of the Mexican Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals of the Secretary of Agriculture (SAGARPA NOM-062-Z00–1999). All experimental protocols were approved by the Institutional Committee of Care and Use of Laboratory Animals (CICUAL-IFC: protocol # AHC24-141). Research does not involve human patients.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflicts of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Departamento de Neurociencia Cognitiva, Instituto de Fisiología Celular , Circuito de la Investigación Científica s/n, Ciudad UniversitariaUniversidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM)MéxicoMéxico
  2. 2.Laboratorio Nacional de Canalopatías, Instituto de Fisiología CelularUniversidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM)CDMXMéxico

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