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Benzodiazepines (BDZ) interact with components of neuronal membranes to modify excitability in three different ways. Action at a high affinity central receptor (dissociation constant, KD, of 3 nM) linked to the GABAA recognition site enhances the inhibitory action of GABA by increasing the number of openings of Cl- channels produced by a given concentration of GABA. This effect correlates with anticonvulsant activity as evaluated in the antipentylenetetrazol test in animals and with antimyoclonic activity in human beings. It also correlates with anxiolytic activity. Action at a lower affinity membrane site (KD 100 nM to 1 microM) limits repetitive firing as observed in isolated neurons (in a manner similar to the action of phenytoin or carbamazepine). This does not depend primarily on neurotransmitter mechanisms, but probably involves an increase in the population of sodium channels in the inactive state. Action at a lower affinity site (KD 45 microM) in presynaptic terminals decreases voltage sensitive Ca++ conductance and, by limiting Ca++ entry, decreases neurotransmitter release. The two lower affinity BDZ systems may be responsible for therapeutic action in status epilepticus and for sedative side-effects. The high affinity central benzodiazepine binding sites can be differentiated into BZ1 and BZ2 receptors by ligands (such as triazolopyridazines and Quazepam) that preferentially act on BZ1 sites. There are regional differences in the density of the two receptor subtypes, but these have not yet been correlated with specific actions of benzodiazepines. Differences between various 1,4- and 1,5-benzodiazepines in terms of therapeutic action in epilepsy and neurologic side-effects can probably be explained on the basis of variation in full or partial agonist action at the high affinity central receptor, or differing relative action at the high and low affinity receptors.


B S Meldrum, A G Chapman. Benzodiazepine receptors and their relationship to the treatment of epilepsy. Epilepsia. 1986;27 Suppl 1:S3-13

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PMID: 3017690

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