Single-channel activations and concentration jumps: comparison of recombinant NR1a/NR2A and NR1a/NR2D NMDA receptors


Corresponding authors D. J. A. Wyllie: Department of Pharmacology, University College London, Gower Street, London WC1E 6BT, UK. Email:


  • 1We have expressed recombinant NR1a/NR2A and NR1a/NR2D N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptor channels in Xenopus oocytes and made recordings of single-channel and macroscopic currents in outside-out membrane patches. For each receptor type we measured (a) the individual single-channel activations evoked by low glutamate concentrations in steady-state recordings, and (b) the macroscopic responses elicited by brief concentration jumps with high agonist concentrations, and we explore the relationship between these two sorts of observation.
  • 2Low concentration (5-100 nM) steady-state recordings of NR1a/NR2A and NR1a/NR2D single-channel activity generated shut-time distributions that were best fitted with a mixture of five and six exponential components, respectively. Individual activations of either receptor type were resolved as bursts of openings, which we refer to as ‘super-clusters’.
  • 3During a single activation, NR1a/NR2A receptors were open for 36 % of the time, but NR1a/NR2D receptors were open for only 4 % of the time. For both, distributions of super-cluster durations were best fitted with a mixture of six exponential components. Their overall mean durations were 35.8 and 1602 ms, respectively.
  • 4Steady-state super-clusters were aligned on their first openings and averaged. The average was well fitted by a sum of exponentials with time constants taken from fits to super-cluster length distributions. It is shown that this is what would be expected for a channel that shows simple Markovian behaviour.
  • 5The current through NR1a/NR2A channels following a concentration jump from zero to 1 mM glutamate for 1 ms was well fitted by three exponential components with time constants of 13 ms (rising phase), 70 ms and 350 ms (decaying phase). Similar concentration jumps on NR1a/NR2D channels were well fitted by two exponentials with means of 45 ms (rising phase) and 4408 ms (decaying phase) components. During prolonged exposure to glutamate, NR1a/NR2A channels desensitized with a time constant of 649 ms, while NR1a/NR2D channels exhibited no apparent desensitization.
  • 6We show that under certain conditions, the time constants for the macroscopic jump response should be the same as those for the distribution of super-cluster lengths, though the resolution of the latter is so much greater that it cannot be expected that all the components will be resolvable in a macroscopic current. Good agreement was found for jumps on NR1a/NR2D receptors, and for some jump experiments on NR1a/NR2A. However, the latter were rather variable and some were slower than predicted. Slow decays were associated with patches that had large currents.