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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Effects of NR1 splicing on NR1/NR3B-type excitatory glycine receptors

Nora A Cavara123, Angela Orth134 and Michael Hollmann1*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Biochemistry I – Receptor Biochemistry, Ruhr University Bochum, Universitätsstr. 150, D-44780 Bochum, Germany

2 International Graduate School of Neuroscience (IGSN), Ruhr University Bochum, Bochum, Germany

3 Ruhr-University Research School, Ruhr University Bochum, Bochum, Germany

4 DFG Graduate School 736, Ruhr University Bochum, Bochum, Germany

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BMC Neuroscience 2009, 10:32  doi:10.1186/1471-2202-10-32

Published: 6 April 2009



N-methyl-D-aspartate receptors (NMDARs) are the most complex of ionotropic glutamate receptors (iGluRs). Subunits of this subfamily assemble into heteromers, which – depending on the subunit combination – may display very different pharmacological and electrophysiological properties. The least studied members of the NMDAR family, the NR3 subunits, have been reported to assemble with NR1 to form excitatory glycine receptors in heterologous expression systems. The heterogeneity of NMDARs in vivo is in part conferred to the receptors by splicing of the NR1 subunit, especially with regard to proton sensitivity.


Here, we have investigated whether the NR3B subunit is capable of assembly with each of the eight functional NR1 splice variants, and whether the resulting receptors share the unique functional properties described for NR1-1a/NR3. We provide evidence that functional excitatory glycine receptors formed regardless of the NR1 isoform, and their pharmacological profile matched the one reported for NR1-1a/NR3: glycine alone fully activated the receptors, which were insensitive to glutamate and block by Mg2+. Surprisingly, amplitudes of agonist-induced currents showed little dependency on the C-terminally spliced NR1 variants in NR1/NR3B diheteromers. Even more strikingly, NR3B conferred proton sensitivity also to receptors containing NR1b variants – possibly via disturbing the "proton shield" of NR1b splice variants.


While functional assembly could be demonstrated for all combinations, not all of the specific interactions seen for NR1 isoforms with coexpressed NR2 subunits could be corroborated for NR1 assembly with NR3. Rather, NR3 abates trafficking effects mediated by the NR1 C terminus as well as the N-terminally mediated proton insensitivity. Thus, this study establishes that NR3B overrides important NR1 splice variant-specific receptor properties in NR1/NR3B excitatory glycine receptors.