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Subunit-specific contribution of pore-forming domains to NMDA receptor channel structure and gating

Published on 06.01.2007 in Journal of General Physiology


Alexander I. Sobolevsky, Michael L. Prodromou, Maria V. Yelshansky, Lonnie P. Wollmuth

This work was done in Lonnie P. Wollmuth lab.

N-methyl-d-aspartate receptors (NMDARs) are ligand-gated ion channels that contribute to fundamental physiological processes such as learning and memory and, when dysfunctional, to pathophysiological conditions such as neurodegenerative diseases, stroke, and mental illness. NMDARs are obligate heteromultimers typically composed of NR1 and NR2 subunits with the different subunits underlying the functional versatility of NMDARs. To study the contribution of the different subunits to NMDAR channel structure and gating, we compared the effects of cysteine-reactive agents on cysteines substituted in and around the M1, M3, and M4 segments of the NR1 and NR2C subunits. Based on the voltage dependence of cysteine modification, we find that, both in NR1 and NR2C, M3 appears to be the only transmembrane segment that contributes to the deep (or voltage dependent) portion of the ion channel pore. This contribution, however, is subunit specific with more positions in NR1 than in NR2C facing the central pore. Complimentarily, NR2C makes a greater contribution than NR1 to the shallow (or voltage independent) portion of the pore with more NR2C positions in pre-M1 and M3-S2 linker lining the ion-conducting pathway. Substituted cysteines in the M3 segments in NR1 and NR2C showed strong, albeit different, state-dependent reactivity, suggesting that they play central but structurally distinct roles in gating. A weaker state dependence was observed for the pre-M1 regions in both subunits. Compared to M1 and M3, the M4 segments in both NR1 and NR2C subunits had limited accessibility and the weakest state dependence, suggesting that they are peripheral to the central pore. Finally, we propose that Lurcher mutation-like effects, which were identified in and around all three transmembrane segments, occur for positions located at dynamic protein–protein or protein–lipid interfaces that have state-dependent accessibility to methanethiosulfonate (MTS) reagents and therefore can affect the equilibrium between open and closed states following reactions with MTS reagents.