NMDA receptors are essential for neurotransmission and key mediators of synaptic signaling, but they can also trigger deleterious degenerative processes that lead to cell death. Growing evidence suggests that selective blockade of the heterogeneous subunits that comprise the NMDA receptor may enable better control of pharmacotherapies for treating neurological diseases and injuries. We investigated the relationship between NMDAR activation, MAPK signaling, and mitochondrial shape following an excitotoxic insult. NR2A- and NR2B-containing NMDARs differentially mediated acute changes in cytosolic calcium, alterations in mitochondrial morphology, and phosphorylation of the MAPKs ERK and JNK. Activation of NR2A-containing NMDARs was associated with JNK phosphorylation that was neuroprotective in neuronal cultures subjected to excitotoxicity. In contrast, activation of NR2B-containing NMDARs triggered calcium accumulation in mitochondria that was strongly associated with mitochondrial swelling and neuronal cell death. Indeed, while blockade of NR2B-containing receptors was neuroprotective, this protection was lost when NR2A-initiated JNK phosphorylation was inhibited. Given the modest selectivity of the NR2A inhibitor, NVP-AAM077, the results highlight the significance of the relative, rather than absolute, activation of these two NMDA subtypes in modulating cell death pathways. Therefore, the balance between concurrent activation of NR2B-containing and NR2A-containing NMDARs dictates neuronal fate following excitotoxicity.
- NMDA receptor
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
- Cell Biology