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1.  Dephosphorylation of GluN2B C-Terminal Tyrosine Residues Does Not Contribute to Acute Ethanol Inhibition of Recombinant NMDA Receptors 
Alcohol (Fayetteville, N.Y.)  2013;47(3):181-186.
N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptors are ion channels activated by the neurotransmitter glutamate and are highly expressed by neurons. These receptors are critical for excitatory synaptic signaling and inhibition of NMDA receptors leads to impaired cognition and learning. Ethanol inhibits NMDA currents at concentrations associated with intoxication and this action may underlie some of the behavioral effects of ethanol. Although numerous sites and mechanisms of action have been tested, the manner in which ethanol inhibits NMDA receptors remains unclear. Recent findings in the literature suggest that ethanol, via facilitation of tyrosine phosphatase activity, may dephosphorylate key tyrosine residues in the C-terminus of GluN2B subunits resulting in diminished channel function. To directly test this hypothesis, we engineered GluN2B mutants that contained phenylalanine in place of tyrosine at three different sites and transiently expressed them with the GluN1 subunit in human embryonic kidney (HEK) cells. Whole-cell patch clamp electrophysiology was used to record glutamate-activated currents in the absence and presence of ethanol (10–600 mM). All mutants were functional and did not differ from one another with respect to current amplitude, steady-state to peak ratio, or magnesium block. Analysis of ethanol dose-response curves showed no significant difference in IC50 values between wild-type receptors and Y1252F, Y1336F, Y1472F or triple Y-F mutants. These findings suggest that dephosphorylation of C-terminal tyrosine residues does not account for ethanol inhibition of GluN2B receptors.
PMCID: PMC3617063  PMID: 23357553
Ethanol; phosphorylation; GluN2B; Electrophysiology
2.  Enhanced Ethanol Inhibition of Recombinant NMDA Receptors by Magnesium: Role of NR3 Subunits 
The effects of ethanol on brain function are thought to be due in part to alterations in the activity of ion channels that regulate synaptic activity. Results from previous studies from this lab and others have shown that ethanol inhibits the function of the N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptors, a calcium-permeable ion channel activated by the neurotransmitter glutamate. Factors that alter the acute sensitivity of NMDA receptors to ethanol may be critical in determining how neurons and neuronal networks respond to the presence of ethanol. In this study, we have examined the effect of physiologically relevant concentrations of magnesium on the ethanol sensitivity of recombinant NMDA receptors and how ethanol inhibition under these conditions is influenced by the NR3A subunit.
Recombinant cDNAs encoding NMDA receptor subunits were expressed in human embryonic kidney (HEK) 293 cells. Whole-cell patch-clamp electrophysiology was used to measure currents induced by rapid application of glutamate in the absence and presence of ethanol.
In magnesium-free recording solution, ethanol inhibited glutamate-mediated currents in cells transfected with NMDA receptor subunits. The magnitude of ethanol inhibition was significantly enhanced when recordings were carried out in media containing 1 mM magnesium. This effect was reversible and required magnesium-sensitive receptors. Magnesium did not enhance ethanol inhibition of glycine-activated NR1/NR3A/NR3B receptors. However, NR3A co-expression prevented the enhancement of ethanol's inhibitory effect on receptors composed of NR2A but not NR2B subunits.
These results suggest that under physiological conditions, NR3A may be an important regulator of the acute ethanol sensitivity of brain NMDA receptors
PMCID: PMC3590455  PMID: 18445116
electrophysiology; addiction; glutamate; HEK cells
3.  Effects of Ethanol on Phosphorylation Site Mutants of Recombinant NMDA Receptors 
Alcohol (Fayetteville, N.Y.)  2010;45(4):373-380.
N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptors are ligand-gated ion channels activated by the neurotransmitter glutamate. These channels are highly expressed by brain neurons and are critically involved in excitatory synaptic transmission. Results from previous studies show that both native and recombinant NMDA receptors are inhibited by ethanol at concentrations associated with signs of behavioral impairment and intoxication. Given the important role that NMDA receptors play in synaptic transmission and brain function, it is important to understand the factors that regulate the ethanol inhibition of these receptors. One dynamic mechanism for regulating ethanol action may be via phosphorylation of NMDA subunits by serine-threonine and tyrosine kinases. Both NR1 and NR2 subunits contain multiple sites of phosphorylation and in the NR1 subunit, most of these are contained within the C1 domain, a carboxy-terminal cassette that is subject to alternative splicing. While results from our previous studies suggest that single phosphorylation sites do not greatly affect ethanol sensitivity of NMDA receptors, it is likely that in vivo, these subunits are phosphorylated at multiple sites by different kinases. In the present study, we constructed a series of NMDA receptor mutants at serine (S) or threonine (T) residues proposed to be sites of phosphorylation by PKA and various isoforms of PKC. Ethanol (100 mM) inhibited currents from wild-type NR1/2A and NR1/2B receptors expressed in HEK293 cells by approximately 25% and 30% respectively. This inhibition was not different in single site mutants expressing alanine (A) or aspartate/glutamate (D/E) at positions T879, S896 or T900. The mutant NR1(S890D) showed greater ethanol inhibition than NR1(890A) containing receptors although this was only observed when it was combined with the NR2A subunit. Ethanol inhibition was not altered by aspartate substitution at four serines (positions 889, 890, 896, 897) or when T879D was added to the four serine-substituted mutant. Ethanol inhibition was increased when T900E was added to the five serine/threonine substituted mutant but again this was selective for NR2A containing receptors. Together with previously published data, these findings suggest that modification of putative phosphorylation sites could contribute to the overall acute ethanol sensitivity of recombinant NMDA receptors. Supported by R37 AA009986.
PMCID: PMC3095724  PMID: 21163614
PKA; PKC; phosphorylation; electrophysiology; alcohol

Results 1-3 (3)