Barbiturate-like actions of the propanediol
dicarbamates felbamate and meprobamate

Rho JM, Donevan SD, Rogawski MA.
Epilepsy Research Branch,
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke,
National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland 20892-1408, USA.
J Pharmacol Exp Ther. 1997 Mar;280(3):1383-91.


Felbamate and meprobamate are structurally related propanediol dicarbamates that possess distinct pharmacological profiles. Felbamate is a minimally sedative, broad-spectrum anticonvulsant, whereas meprobamate is a strong sedative-anxiolytic agent. Previously, we reported that felbamate potentiates gamma-aminobutyric acid(A) (GABA(A)) receptor Cl- currents and inhibits N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptor currents. Here we further characterized the interaction of the two dicarbamates with GABA(A) receptors to determine the basis for their pharmacological differences. In whole-cell voltage-clamp recordings from cultured rat hippocampal neurons, meprobamate enhanced GABA-evoked responses in a concentration-dependent manner and, at high concentrations (>1 mM), exhibited a separate channel-blocking effect that limited the magnitude of GABA(A) receptor potentiation. At equivalent concentrations, meprobamate produced substantially greater potentiation than did felbamate. Furthermore, meprobamate (but not felbamate), in the absence of GABA, directly activated Cl- currents that could be attenuated by the GABA(A) receptor antagonists bicuculline and picrotoxin. The mean deactivation time constant of whole-cell currents evoked by 10 mM meprobamate (110 ms) or 1 and 3 microM GABA (180 ms) were faster than the deactivation time constant of 10 mM meprobamate (490 ms) or 3 mM felbamate (470 ms) in the presence of GABA. Meprobamate and felbamate prolonged the mean burst duration of GABA-activated unitary currents in excised outside-out membrane patches. In addition, at high (supratherapeutic) concentrations, meprobamate blocked NMDA-activated currents. We conclude that felbamate and meprobamate have barbiturate-like modulatory actions on GABA(A) receptors, but meprobamate has greater activity and, unlike felbamate, is able to directly activate the receptor.
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