British journal of pharmacology

Differential actions of ethanol and trichloroethanol at sites in the M3 and M4 domains of the NMDA receptor GluN2A (NR2A) subunit.

PMID 19788495


Alcohol produces its behavioural effects in part due to inhibition of N-methyl-d-aspartate (NMDA) receptors in the CNS. Previous studies have identified amino acid residues in membrane-associated domains 3 (M3) and 4 (M4) of the NMDA receptor that influence ethanol sensitivity. In addition, in other alcohol-sensitive ion channels, sedative-hypnotic agents have in some cases been shown to act at sites distinct from the sites of ethanol action. In this study, we compared the influence of mutations at these sites on sensitivity to ethanol and trichloroethanol, a sedative-hypnotic agent that is a structural analogue of ethanol. We constructed panels of mutants at ethanol-sensitive positions in the GluN2A (NR2A) NMDA receptor subunit and transiently expressed these mutants in human embryonic kidney 293 cells. We used whole-cell patch-clamp recording to assess the actions of ethanol and trichloroethanol in these mutant NMDA receptors. Ethanol sensitivity of mutants at GluN2A(Ala825) was not correlated with any physicochemical measures tested. Trichloroethanol sensitivity was altered in two of three ethanol-insensitive mutant GluN2A subunits: GluN2A(Phe637Trp) in M3 and GluN2A(Ala825Trp) in M4, but not GluN2A(Met823Trp). Trichloroethanol sensitivity decreased with increasing molecular volume at Phe637 or increasing hydrophobicity at Ala825 and was correlated with ethanol sensitivity at both sites. Evidence obtained to date is consistent with a role of GluN2A(Ala825) as a modulatory site for ethanol and trichloroethanol sensitivity, but not as a binding site. Trichloroethanol appears to inhibit the NMDA receptor in a manner similar, but not identical to, that of ethanol.