Synthesis and biological evaluation of bis-CNB-GABA, a photoactivatable neurotransmitter with low receptor interference and chemical two-photon uncaging properties

Date Published:

2014 Feb 05


Photoactivatable "caged" neurotransmitters allow optical control of neural tissue with high spatial and temporal precision. However, the development of caged versions of the chief vertebrate inhibitory neurotransmitter, γ-amino butyric acid (GABA), has been limited by the propensity of caged GABAs to interact with GABA receptors. We describe herein the synthesis and application of a practically useful doubly caged GABA analog, termed bis-α-carboxy-2-nitrobenzyl-GABA (bis-CNB-GABA). Uncaging of bis-CNB-GABA evokes inward GABAergic currents in cerebellar molecular layer interneurons with rise times of 2 ms, comparable to flash duration. Response amplitudes depend on the square of flash intensity, as expected for a chemical two-photon uncaging effect. Importantly, prior to uncaging, bis-CNB-GABA is inactive at the GABAA receptor, evoking no changes in holding current in voltage-clamped neurons and showing an IC50 of at least 2.5 mM as measured using spontaneous GABAergic synaptic currents. Bis-CNB-GABA is stable in solution, with an estimated half-life of 98 days in the light. We expect that bis-CNB-GABA will prove to be an effective tool for high-resolution chemical control of brain circuits.