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J Neurosci. 2010 Aug 18;30(33):11246-50. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.2488-10.2010.

Memantine preferentially blocks extrasynaptic over synaptic NMDA receptor currents in hippocampal autapses.

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Del E. Webb Center for Neuroscience, Aging, and Stem Cell Research, Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute, La Jolla, California 92037, USA.


Glutamate is the major excitatory neurotransmitter in the brain. The NMDA subtype of glutamate receptors (NMDAR) is known to mediate many physiological neural functions. However, excessive activation of NMDARs contributes to neuronal damage in various acute and chronic neurological disorders. To avoid unwanted adverse side effects, blockade of excessive NMDAR activity must therefore be achieved without affecting its physiological function. Memantine, an adamantane derivative, has been used for the treatment of Alzheimer's disease with an excellent clinical safety profile. We previously showed that memantine preferentially blocked neurotoxicity mediated by excessive NMDAR activity while relatively sparing normal neurotransmission, in part because of its uncompetitive antagonism with a fast off-rate. Here, using rat autaptic hippocampal microcultures, we show that memantine at therapeutic concentrations (1-10 microM) preferentially blocks extrasynaptic rather than synaptic currents mediated by NMDARs in the same neuron. We found that memantine blocks extrasynaptic NMDAR-mediated currents induced by bath application of 100 microM NMDA/10 microM glycine with a twofold higher potency than its blockade of the NMDAR component of evoked EPSCs (EPSCs(NMDAR)); this effect persists under conditions of pathological depolarization in the presence of 1 mm extracellular Mg(2+). Thus, our findings provide the first unequivocal evidence to explain the tolerability of memantine based on differential extrasynaptic/synaptic receptor blockade. At therapeutic concentrations, memantine effectively blocks excessive extrasynaptic NMDAR-mediated currents, while relatively sparing normal synaptic activity.

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