Excitatory synaptic transmission in the central nervous system is largely mediated by the AMPA and NMDA subtypes of ionotropic glutamate receptors (AMPAR and NMDAR, respectively). Because AMPARs mediate the bulk of glutamatergic synaptic transmission, excitatory efficacy is commonly associated with the magnitude of AMPAR-mediated synaptic responses. While postsynaptic NMDARs are well-known for gating several forms of activity-dependent plasticity (e.g. long-term potentiation and long-term depression) of AMPAR-mediated transmission, NMDARs can also contribute to information transfer at synapses and to neuronal excitability. In addition, certain synapses localize NMDARs to the presynaptic compartment where their activation by synaptically-released glutamate can regulate neurotransmitter release. Moreover, an expanding body of evidence indicates that NMDARs themselves are also dynamically regulated and subject to activity-dependent long-term plasticity. However, many of the mechanisms underlying NMDAR plasticity are poorly understood. Thus far, most studies addressing NMDAR regulation have been performed in expression systems and cultured neurons. As a result, the extent to which similar mechanisms apply to the in vivo situation remains largely unknown. Furthermore, scant knowledge exists on the mechanisms of induction and expression of NMDAR plasticity. In this proposal, we will attempt to fill this knowledge gap by analyzing two key hippocampal synapses that express robust NMDAR plasticity. The overarching hypothesis is that common mechanisms underlie dynamic regulation of NMDARs across synapses. Using a combination of complementary experimental approaches, such as electrophysiology in acute hippocampal slices, optogenetics, immunoelectron microscopy, calcium imaging, in vivo knockdown strategies and transgenic mice, we will investigate the role of specific signaling pathways and receptor subunits in NMDAR plasticity. In addition, we will determine whether presynaptic NMDARs are regulators of short-term and long-term synaptic plasticity, and whether NMDAR plasticity is developmentally regulated. Dysregulation of NMDARs has been implicated in a wide range of neuropsychiatric disorders, such as schizophrenia, epilepsy, chronic pain, addiction to drugs, Alzheimer's disease, and Huntington's disease. Understanding the molecular mechanisms underlying NMDAR plasticity could help elucidate the precise contribution of these receptors to normal brain function, and also provide significant insights in developing novel strategies for restoring receptor function in specific disease states.
NMDA receptors mediate excitatory synaptic transmission and play a key role in neural development and brain plasticity. Dysregulation of NMDA receptors has been implicated in a variety of neurological and psychiatric disorders, including ischemia, stroke, epilepsy, schizophrenia, drug addiction, chronic pain, and several neurodegenerative diseases. Understanding how neural activity modulates NMDA receptors under physiological conditions may contribute to the development of novel therapies for ameliorating NMDAR dysfunction in disease states.
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