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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Evolution of NMDA receptor cytoplasmic interaction domains: implications for organisation of synaptic signalling complexes

Tomás J Ryan1, Richard D Emes12, Seth GN Grant1* and Noboru H Komiyama1

Author affiliations

1 Genes to Cognition Program, Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, Cambridge, UK

2 Institute for Science and Technology in Medicine, School of Medicine, Keele University, Staffordshire, UK

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Citation and License

BMC Neuroscience 2008, 9:6  doi:10.1186/1471-2202-9-6

Published: 15 January 2008

Abstract

Background

Glutamate gated postsynaptic receptors in the central nervous system (CNS) are essential for environmentally stimulated behaviours including learning and memory in both invertebrates and vertebrates. Though their genetics, biochemistry, physiology, and role in behaviour have been intensely studied in vitro and in vivo, their molecular evolution and structural aspects remain poorly understood. To understand how these receptors have evolved different physiological requirements we have investigated the molecular evolution of glutamate gated receptors and ion channels, in particular the N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptor, which is essential for higher cognitive function. Studies of rodent NMDA receptors show that the C-terminal intracellular domain forms a signalling complex with enzymes and scaffold proteins, which is important for neuronal and behavioural plasticity

Results

The vertebrate NMDA receptor was found to have subunits with C-terminal domains up to 500 amino acids longer than invertebrates. This extension was specific to the NR2 subunit and occurred before the duplication and subsequent divergence of NR2 in the vertebrate lineage. The shorter invertebrate C-terminus lacked vertebrate protein interaction motifs involved with forming a signaling complex although the terminal PDZ interaction domain was conserved. The vertebrate NR2 C-terminal domain was predicted to be intrinsically disordered but with a conserved secondary structure.

Conclusion

We highlight an evolutionary adaptation specific to vertebrate NMDA receptor NR2 subunits. Using in silico methods we find that evolution has shaped the NMDA receptor C-terminus into an unstructured but modular intracellular domain that parallels the expansion in complexity of an NMDA receptor signalling complex in the vertebrate lineage. We propose the NR2 C-terminus has evolved to be a natively unstructured yet flexible hub organising postsynaptic signalling. The evolution of the NR2 C-terminus and its associated signalling complex may contribute to species differences in behaviour and in particular cognitive function.