Molecular psychiatry

Excitotoxicity and focal cerebral ischemia induce truncation of the NR2A and NR2B subunits of the NMDA receptor and cleavage of the scaffolding protein PSD-95.

PMID 17486105


The N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor (NMDAR) is central to physiological and pathological functioning of neurons. Although promising results are beginning to be obtained in the treatment of dementias, clinical trials with NMDAR antagonists for stroke, trauma and neurodegenerative disorders, such as Hungtinton's disease, have failed before. In order to design effective therapies to prevent excitotoxic neuronal death, it is critical to characterize the consequences of excessive NMDAR activation on its expression and function. Previous data have reported partial downregulation of the NR1 and NR2B receptor subunits in response to excitotoxicity and cerebral ischemia. However, the effect of NMDAR overactivation on NR2A, a subunit fundamental to synaptic transmission and neuronal survival, is still elusive. In this study, we report the rapid and extensive proteolytic processing of NR2A, together with the scaffolding protein postsynaptic density-95 (PSD-95), induced by excitotoxic stimulation of cortical neurons in vitro and by transient focal cerebral ischemia. Processing of the C terminus of NR2A is irreversibly induced by brief agonist exposure of NR2B-containing receptors, and requires calcium influx and the activity of calpain, also responsible for PSD-95 cleavage. The outcome is a truncated NR2A subunit that is stable and capable to interact with NR1 at the surface of neurons, but lacking the structural domains required for association with scaffolding, downstream signaling and cytoskeletal proteins. Therefore, a rapid and significant uncoupling of synaptic NMDARs from downstream survival pathways is expected to occur during ischemia. This novel mechanism induced by excitotoxicity helps to explain the failure of most therapies based on NMDAR antagonists.

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