The neurosteroid pregnenolone sulphate (PS) potentiates N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptor mediated responses in various neuronal preparations. The NR1 subunit can combine with NR2A, NR2B, NR2C, or NR2D subunits to form functional receptors. Differential NR2 subunit expression in brain and during development raises the question of how the NR2 subunit influences NMDA receptor modulation by neuroactive steroids.
We examined the effects of PS on the four diheteromeric NMDA receptor subtypes generated by co-expressing the NR1100 subunit with each of the four NR2 subunits in Xenopus oocytes. Whereas PS potentiated NMDA-, glutamate-, and glycine-induced currents of NR1/NR2A and NR1/NR2B receptors, it was inhibitory at NR1/NR2C and NR1/NR2D receptors.
In contrast, pregnanolone sulphate (3α5βS), a negative modulator of the NMDA receptor that acts at a distinct site from PS, inhibited all four subtypes, but was approximately 4 fold more potent at NR1/NR2C and NR1/NR2D than at NR1/NR2A and NR1/NR2B receptors.
These findings demonstrate that residues on the NR2 subunit are key determinants of modulation by PS and 3α5βS. The modulatory effects of PS, but not 3α5βS, on dose-response curves for NMDA, glutamate, and glycine are consistent with a two-state model in which PS either stabilizes or destabilizes the active state of the receptor, depending upon which NR2 subunit is present.
The selectivity of sulphated steroid modulators for NMDA receptors of specific subunit composition is consistent with a neuromodulatory role for endogenous sulphated steroids. The results indicate that it may be possible to develop therapeutic agents that target steroid modulatory sites of specific NMDA receptor subtypes.
British Journal of Pharmacology (2002) 135, 901–909; doi:10.1038/sj.bjp.0704543