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J Neurosci. 1997 Aug 15;17(16):6264-76.

Temporal correlations between functional and molecular changes in NMDA receptors and GABA neurotransmission in the superior colliculus.

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Department of Biology, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut 06520, USA.


Activation of the NMDA subtype of glutamate receptor is required for activity-dependent structural plasticity in many areas of the young brain. Previous work has shown that NMDA receptor currents decline approximately at the time that developmental synaptic plasticity ends, and in situ hybridization studies have suggested that receptor subunit changes may be occurring during the same developmental interval. To establish a system in which the relationship between these properties of developing synapses can be explored, we have combined patch-clamp recordings with mRNA- and protein-level biochemical analyses to study the developmental regulation of NMDA receptors in the superficial layers of the rat superior colliculus. These experiments document an abrupt decrease in the NMDA receptor contribution to synaptic currents that occurs before eye opening and is closely associated with changes in NR1 protein, rapidly rising levels of the NMDA receptor subunit NR2A, and decreasing levels of NR2B. The functional and molecular changes also are correlated with the developmental decline in structural plasticity in these layers. In addition, both physiological and biochemical methods show evidence of GABA-mediated inhibition in the superficial collicular layers beginning after eye opening. This may provide an additional heterosynaptic mechanism for controlling excitation and plasticity in this neuropil by pattern vision. Thus our findings lend support to the idea that high levels of NMDA receptor function are associated with the potential for structural rearrangement in CNS neuropil and that the functional downregulation of this molecule results, at least partially, from changes in its subunit composition.

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