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J Neurosci. 2009 Oct 7;29(40):12702-10. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.1166-09.2009.

Autocrine activation of neuronal NMDA receptors by aspartate mediates dopamine- and cAMP-induced CREB-dependent gene transcription.

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Department of Physiology, Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Cancer Center, University of Maryland School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD 21201, USA.


cAMP can stimulate the transcription of many activity-dependent genes via activation of the transcription factor, cAMP response element-binding protein (CREB). However, in mouse cortical neuron cultures, prior to synaptogenesis, neither cAMP nor dopamine, which acts via cAMP, stimulated CREB-dependent gene transcription when NR2B-containing NMDA receptors (NMDARs) were blocked. Stimulation of transcription by cAMP was potentiated by inhibitors of excitatory amino acid uptake, suggesting a role for extracellular glutamate or aspartate in cAMP-induced transcription. Aspartate was identified as the extracellular messenger: enzymatic scavenging of l-aspartate, but not glutamate, blocked stimulation of CREB-dependent gene transcription by cAMP; moreover, cAMP induced aspartate but not glutamate release. Together, these results suggest that cAMP acts via an autocrine or paracrine pathway to release aspartate, which activates NR2B-containing NMDARs, leading to Ca(2+) entry and activation of transcription. This cAMP/aspartate/NMDAR signaling pathway may mediate the effects of transmitters such as dopamine on axon growth and synaptogenesis in developing neurons or on synaptic plasticity in mature neural networks.

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