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J Gen Physiol. 2015 Jun;145(6):513-27. doi: 10.1085/jgp.201411302. Epub 2015 May 11.

Glycine-dependent activation of NMDA receptors.

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Department of Biochemistry, University at Buffalo, State University of New York, Buffalo, NY 14214.
Department of Biochemistry, University at Buffalo, State University of New York, Buffalo, NY 14214


N-methyl-d-aspartate (NMDA) receptors are the only neurotransmitter receptors whose activation requires two distinct agonists. Heterotetramers of two GluN1 and two GluN2 subunits, NMDA receptors are broadly distributed in the central nervous system, where they mediate excitatory currents in response to synaptic glutamate release. Pore opening depends on the concurrent presence of glycine, which modulates the amplitude and time course of the glutamate-elicited response. Gating schemes for fully glutamate- and glycine-bound NMDA receptors have been described in sufficient detail to bridge the gap between microscopic and macroscopic receptor behaviors; for several receptor isoforms, these schemes include glutamate-binding steps. We examined currents recorded from cell-attached patches containing one GluN1/GluN2A receptor in the presence of several glycine-site agonists and used kinetic modeling of these data to develop reaction schemes that include explicit glycine-binding steps. Based on the ability to match a series of experimentally observed macroscopic behaviors, we propose a model for activation of the glutamate-bound NMDA receptor by glycine that predicts apparent negative agonist cooperativity and glycine-dependent desensitization in the absence of changes in microscopic binding or desensitization rate constants. These results complete the basic steps of an NMDA receptor reaction scheme for the GluN1/GluN2A isoform and prompt a reevaluation of how glycine controls NMDA receptor activation. We anticipate that our model will provide a useful quantitative instrument to further probe mechanisms and structure-function relationships of NMDA receptors and to better understand the physiological and pathological implications of endogenous fluctuations in extracellular glycine concentrations.

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