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Preterm birth affects GABAA receptor subunit mRNA levels during the foetal-to-neonatal transition in guinea pigs

  • J. C. Shaw (a1) (a2), H. K. Palliser (a1) (a2), D. W. Walker (a3) and J. J. Hirst (a1) (a2)


Modulation of gamma-aminobutyric acid A (GABAA) receptor signalling by the neurosteroid allopregnanolone has a major role in late gestation neurodevelopment. The objective of this study was to characterize the mRNA levels of GABAA receptor subunits (α4, α5, α6 and δ) that are key to neurosteroid binding in the brain, following preterm birth. Myelination, measured by the myelin basic protein immunostaining, was used to assess maturity of the preterm brains. Foetal guinea pig brains were obtained at 62 days’ gestational age (GA, preterm) or at term (69 days). Neonates were delivered by caesarean section, at 62 days GA and term, and maintained until tissue collection at 24 h of age. Subunit mRNA levels were quantified by RT-PCR in the hippocampus and cerebellum of foetal and neonatal brains. Levels of the α6 and δ subunits were markedly lower in the cerebellum of preterm guinea pigs compared with term animals. Importantly, there was an increase in mRNA levels of these subunits during the foetal-to-neonatal transition at term, which was not seen following preterm birth. Myelination was lower in preterm neonatal brains, consistent with marked immaturity. Salivary cortisol concentrations, measured by EIA, were also higher for the preterm neonates, suggesting greater stress. We conclude that there is an adaptive increase in the levels of mRNA of the key GABAA receptor subunits involved in neurosteroid action after term birth, which may compensate for declining allopregnanolone levels. The lower levels of these subunits in preterm neonates may heighten the adverse effect of the premature decline in neurosteroid exposure.


Corresponding author

*Address for correspondence: J. C. Shaw, Mothers and Babies Research Centre, Hunter Medical Research Institute, University of Newcastle, Callaghan, NSW 2308, Australia. (Email


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Preterm birth affects GABAA receptor subunit mRNA levels during the foetal-to-neonatal transition in guinea pigs

  • J. C. Shaw (a1) (a2), H. K. Palliser (a1) (a2), D. W. Walker (a3) and J. J. Hirst (a1) (a2)


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