Fast synaptic neurotransmission is mediated by transmitter-activated conformational changes in ligand-gated ion channel receptors, culminating in opening of the integral ion channel pore. Human hereditary hyperekplexia, or startle disease, is caused by mutations in both the intracellular or extracellular loops flanking the pore-lining M2 domain of the glycine receptor alpha1 subunit. These flanking domains are designated the M1-M2 loop and the M2-M3 loop respectively. We show that four startle disease mutations and six additional alanine substitution mutations distributed throughout both loops result in uncoupling of the ligand binding sites from the channel activation gate. We therefore conclude that the M1-M2 and M2-M3 loops act in parallel to activate the channel. Their locations strongly suggest that they act as hinges governing allosteric control of the M2 domain. As the members of the ligand-gated ion channel superfamily share a common structure, this signal transduction model may apply to all members of this superfamily.