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Neuropharmacology. 2013 Nov;74:32-40. doi: 10.1016/j.neuropharm.2013.04.014. Epub 2013 Apr 27.

NMDA receptors and memory encoding.

Author information

1
Centre for Cognitive and Neural Systems, Edinburgh Neuroscience, The University of Edinburgh, 1 George Square, Edinburgh EH8 9JZ, UK. r.g.m.morris@ed.ac.uk

Abstract

It is humbling to think that 30 years have passed since the paper by Collingridge, Kehl and McLennan showing that one of Jeff Watkins most interesting compounds, R-2-amino-5-phosphonopentanoate (d-AP5), blocked the induction of long-term potentiation in vitro at synapses from area CA3 of the hippocampus to CA1 without apparent effect on baseline synaptic transmission (Collingridge et al., 1983). This dissociation was one of the key triggers for an explosion of interest in glutamate receptors, and much has been discovered since that collectively contributes to our contemporary understanding of glutamatergic synapses - their biophysics and subunit composition, of the agonists and antagonists acting on them, and their diverse functions in different networks of the brain and spinal cord. It can be fairly said that Collingridge et al.'s (1983) observation was the stimulus that has led, on the one hand, to structural biological work at the atomic scale describing the key features of NMDA receptors that enables their coincidence function to happen; and, on the other, to work with whole animals investigating the contributions that calcium signalling via this receptor can have on rhythmical activities controlled by spinal circuits, memory encoding in the hippocampus (the topic of this article), visual cortical plasticity, sensitization in pain, and other functions. In this article, I lay out how my then interest in long-term potentiation (LTP) as a model of memory enabled me to recognise the importance of Collingridge et al.'s discovery - and how I and my colleagues endeavoured to take things forward in the area of learning and memory. This is in some respects a personal story, and I tell it as such. The idea that NMDA receptor activation is essential for memory encoding, though not for storage, took time to develop and to be accepted. Along the way, there have been confusions, challenges, and surprises surrounding the idea that activation of NMDA receptors can trigger memory. Some of these are described and how they have been addressed and resolved. Last, I touch on some new directions of interest with respect to the functional role of the NMDA receptor in cognition. This article is part of the Special Issue entitled 'Glutamate Receptor-Dependent Synaptic Plasticity'.

KEYWORDS:

Amygdala; Encoding; GRIN; Glutamate receptor; Hippocampus; Learning; Neocortex; Retrieval; Storage consolidation; Watermaze

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