The proper functioning of the adult mammalian brain relies on the orchestrated regulation of neural activity by a diverse population of GABA (γ-aminobutyric acid)-releasing neurons. Until recently, our appreciation of GABA-mediated inhibition focused predominantly on the GABAA (GABA type A) receptors located at synaptic contacts, which are activated in a transient or 'phasic' manner by GABA that is released from synaptic vesicles. However, there is growing evidence that low concentrations of ambient GABA can persistently activate certain subtypes of GABAA receptor, which are often remote from synapses, to generate a 'tonic' conductance. In this review, we consider the distinct roles of synaptic and extrasynaptic GABA receptor subtypes in the control of neuronal excitability.
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