Research Article

Crystal structure of a heterotetrameric NMDA receptor ion channel

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Science  30 May 2014:
Vol. 344, Issue 6187, pp. 992-997
DOI: 10.1126/science.1251915

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Intact NMDA receptor structure revealed

For brains to develop and form memories, a signal must be transmitted from one neuron to the next. Glutamate is an important neurotransmitter that excites the receiving nerve cell by binding to an ion channel called an N-Methyl-d-Aspartate (NMDA) receptor. This activates the NMDA receptors, causing calcium ions to flood in, triggering signal transduction. Either under- or overactivation can result in a variety of neurological disorders and diseases. Karakas and Furukawa describe the crystal structure of an intact NMDA receptor composed of four separate subunits.

Science, this issue p. 992


N-Methyl-d-aspartate (NMDA) receptors belong to the family of ionotropic glutamate receptors, which mediate most excitatory synaptic transmission in mammalian brains. Calcium permeation triggered by activation of NMDA receptors is the pivotal event for initiation of neuronal plasticity. Here, we show the crystal structure of the intact heterotetrameric GluN1-GluN2B NMDA receptor ion channel at 4 angstroms. The NMDA receptors are arranged as a dimer of GluN1-GluN2B heterodimers with the twofold symmetry axis running through the entire molecule composed of an amino terminal domain (ATD), a ligand-binding domain (LBD), and a transmembrane domain (TMD). The ATD and LBD are much more highly packed in the NMDA receptors than non-NMDA receptors, which may explain why ATD regulates ion channel activity in NMDA receptors but not in non-NMDA receptors.

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