Glutamate receptors of the N-methyl-D-asparate (NMDA-) subtype are tetrameric allosteric and ligand-gated calcium channels. They are modulated by a variety of endogenous ligands and ions and play a pivotal role in memoryrelated signal transduction due to a voltage-dependent block by magnesium, which makes them Hebbian coincidence detectors. On the structural level NMDA receptors have an enormous flexibility due to seven genes (NR1, NR2A-D and NR3A-B), alternative splicing, RNA-editing and extensive posttranslational modifications, like phosphorylation and glycosylation. NMDA receptors are thought to be responsible for excitotoxicity and subsequent downstream events like neuroinflammation and apoptosis and thus have been implicated in many important human pathologies, ranging from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Alzheimers and Parkinson disease, depression, epilepsy, trauma and stroke to schizophrenia. This fundamental significance of NMDA receptor-related excitotoxicity is discussed in the context of the developing clinical success of Memantine, but moreover set into relation to various proteomic and genetic markers of said diseases. The very complex localisational and functional regulation of NMDA receptors appears to be dependent on neuregulins and receptor tyrosine kinases in cholesterol-rich membrane domains (lipid rafts), calcium-related mitochondrial feedback-loops and subsynaptic structural elements like PSD-95 (post-synaptic density protein of 95 kD). The flexibility and multitude of interaction partners and possibilities of these highly dynamic molecular systems are discussed in terms of drug development strategies, in particular comparing high affinity and sub-type specific ligands to currently successful or promising therapies.
Keywords: NMDA receptor, neuregulin, cholesterol, excitotoxicity, neurodegeneration, dihydropyrimidinase-related protein 2, PARP-1, mitochondrial apoptotic pathway
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