Control of aversion by glycine-gated GluN1/GluN3A NMDA receptors in the adult medial habenula

See allHide authors and affiliations

Science  11 Oct 2019:
Vol. 366, Issue 6462, pp. 250-254
DOI: 10.1126/science.aax1522

An inhibitor causes neuronal excitation

Glycine is thought to be primarily an inhibitory neurotransmitter. However, it also acts as a coagonist on excitatory N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptors. Otsu et al. examined the function of the NMDA receptor subunit combination GluN1/GluN3A in the medial habenula (MHb) of adult mice. This NMDA receptor subunit combination in MHb neurons is activated by glycine released from astrocytes. Activation of GluN1/GluN3A NMDA receptors causes depolarization and increased spiking of MHb neurons. Reducing GluN3A receptor subunit levels in the MHb blocks conditioned place aversion.

Science, this issue p. 250


The unconventional N-methyl-d-aspartate (NMDA) receptor subunits GluN3A and GluN3B can, when associated with the other glycine-binding subunit GluN1, generate excitatory conductances purely activated by glycine. However, functional GluN1/GluN3 receptors have not been identified in native adult tissues. We discovered that GluN1/GluN3A receptors are operational in neurons of the mouse adult medial habenula (MHb), an epithalamic area controlling aversive physiological states. In the absence of glycinergic neuronal specializations in the MHb, glial cells tuned neuronal activity via GluN1/GluN3A receptors. Reducing GluN1/GluN3A receptor levels in the MHb prevented place-aversion conditioning. Our study extends the physiological and behavioral implications of glycine by demonstrating its control of negatively valued emotional associations via excitatory glycinergic NMDA receptors.

View Full Text

Stay Connected to Science