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Mechanism for neurotransmitter-receptor matching


Synaptic communication requires the expression of functional postsynaptic receptors that match the presynaptically released neurotransmitter. The ability of neurons to switch the transmitter they release is increasingly well documented, and these switches require changes in the postsynaptic receptor population. Although the activity-dependent molecular mechanism of neurotransmitter switching is increasingly well understood, the basis of specification of postsynaptic neurotransmitter receptors matching the newly expressed transmitter is unknown. Using a functional assay, we show that sustained application of glutamate to embryonic vertebrate skeletal muscle cells cultured before innervation is necessary and sufficient to up-regulate ionotropic glutamate receptors from a pool of different receptors expressed at low levels. Up-regulation of these ionotropic receptors is independent of signaling by metabotropic glutamate receptors. Both imaging of glutamate-induced calcium elevations and Western blots reveal ionotropic glutamate receptor expression prior to immunocytochemical detection. Sustained application of glutamate to skeletal myotomes in vivo is necessary and sufficient for up-regulation of membrane expression of the GluN1 NMDA receptor subunit. Pharmacological antagonists and morpholinos implicate p38 and Jun kinases and MEF2C in the signal cascade leading to ionotropic glutamate receptor expression. The results suggest a mechanism by which neuronal release of transmitter up-regulates postsynaptic expression of appropriate transmitter receptors following neurotransmitter switching and may contribute to the proper expression of receptors at the time of initial innervation.

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