J. Neurochem. (2010) 113, 692–703.
The α-amino-3-hydroxyl-5-methyl-4-isoxazole-propionate receptor (AMPAR) subunit GluR2, which regulates excitotoxicity and the inflammatory cytokine tumour necrosis factor alpha (TNFα) have both been implicated in motor neurone vulnerability in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis/motor neurone disease. TNFα has been reported to increase cell surface expression of AMPAR subunits to increase synaptic strength and enhance excitotoxicity, but whether this mechanism occurs in motor neurones is unknown. We used primary cultures of mouse motor neurones and cortical neurones to examine the interaction between TNFα receptor activation, GluR2 availability, AMPAR-mediated calcium entry and susceptibility to excitotoxicity. Short exposure to a physiologically relevant concentration of TNFα (10 ng/mL, 15 min) caused a marked redistribution of both GluR1 and GluR2 to the cell surface as determined by cell surface biotinylation and immunofluorescence. Using fura-2-acetoxymethyl ester microfluorimetry, we showed that exposure to TNFα caused a rapid reduction in the peak amplitude of AMPA-mediated calcium entry in a PI3-kinase and p38 kinase-dependent manner, consistent with increased insertion of GluR2-containing AMPAR into the plasma membrane. This resulted in a protection of motor neurones against kainate-induced cell death. Our data therefore, suggest that TNFα acts primarily as a physiological regulator of synaptic activity in motor neurones rather than a pathological drive in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.