We present a novel protocol to quantify extrasynaptic NMDA receptor function utilizing the semi‐selective activation of extrasynaptic receptors by ambient extracellular glutamate in acute brain slices from adult rats.
We use whole cell patch clamp to measure the effect of the NMDA receptor antagonist MK‐801 on both synaptic and brief, local agonist application‐evoked responses.
The level of ambient glutamate was estimated from tonic NMDA receptor activity to be ∼77 nM and an equivalent concentration of NMDA was used to estimate the degree of extrasynaptic blockade (>82%) by our MK‐801 protocol.
The extrasynaptic component of the total NMDA receptor pool can be mathematically derived from these data and was estimated to be 29–39% in the stratum radiatum of the CA1 region of the rat hippocampus.
This technique could be used to quantify extrasynaptic NMDA receptor function in rodent models of diseases where extrasynaptic NMDA receptors are implicated in neuron death.
Synaptic NMDA receptors (NMDARs) play a central role in pro‐survival signalling and synaptic plasticity in the majority of excitatory synapses in the central nervous system whereas extrasynaptic NMDARs (ES‐NMDARs) activate pro‐death pathways and have been implicated in many neurodegenerative diseases. ES‐NMDARs have been characterized in acute brain slice preparations using the largely irreversible, activity‐dependent NMDAR antagonist MK‐801 to block synaptic NMDARs. This approach is limited by the concomitant MK‐801 blockade of ES‐NMDARs activated by ambient extracellular glutamate, which is largely absent from the synaptic cleft due to the high density of nearby glutamate transporters. In acute hippocampal slices from rats aged 35–42 postnatal days, we estimated ambient glutamate to be 72–83 nM resulting in a block of more than 82% of ES‐NMDARs during a 5 min MK‐801 application. This paper describes a novel electrophysiological and mathematical method to quantify the proportion of NMDARs located at extrasynaptic locations in a confined region of an acute brain slice preparation using MK‐801 to preferentially block ES‐NMDARs. The protocol uses whole cell patch clamp measurement of NMDAR responses to synaptic stimulation and brief local pressure application of NMDA before and after MK‐801 application. After mathematically correcting for the relative block of both synaptic and extrasynaptic receptors, ES‐NMDARs were estimated to comprise 29–39% of the total NMDAR pool in the apical dendrites of hippocampal CA1 pyramidal neurons. This new method may prove useful for accurate quantification of NMDAR distributions in neurodegenerative diseases that are associated with increased toxic ES‐NMDAR signalling.
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