This paper is the result of discussions between scientists working in widely separated areas, united by an interest in the hippocampus. The discussions focused on the possible role of GABA in the development and maturation of the hippocampus and in neurodegeneration in Alzheimer's disease (AD). GABA neurons are among the first to differentiate in the hippocampus and the properties of GABA neurotransmission in the developing hippocampus are distinct from those in the adult. GABA-ergic transmission may play a role in the clustering and maturation of GABA receptors, as well as of receptors for other neurotransmitters. The development and maturation of synaptic connections involves changes in the organization of the cytoskeleton, and mechanical force generation is probably required to establish appropriate points of contact. This generation of force may require coupling of specific receptors to the cytoskeleton through specialized proteins. In AD, much of the developmental process is progressively unraveled in the hippocampus, as afferent fibers, most notably from entorhinal excitatory neurons and from basal forebrain cholinergic cells, degenerate. This denervation undoubtedly has consequences for receptor systems, dendritic morphology and the underlying cytoskeleton. GABA neurons remain in the AD hippocampus, and may actually contribute to abnormal firing and degeneration of remaining pyramidal neurons. This attempt to bring together data from different areas of research has allowed the development of a scheme which identifies significant specific gaps in our knowledge, which could be readily filled by focused experimental work.
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