J. Neurochem. (2010) 115, 1045–1056.
NMDA receptors (NMDARs) mediate excitatory synaptic transmission during repetitive or prolonged glutamate release, playing a critical role in synaptic plasticity or cell death, respectively. Evidence indicates that a major pathway of NMDAR signaling to cell death in cortical and hippocampal neurons requires the scaffolding protein post-synaptic density 95 (PSD-95) and activation of neuronal nitric oxide synthase. However, it is not known if this PSD-95-dependent pathway contributes to excitotoxicity in other brain regions. It is also unclear whether the neuroprotective effects of Tat-NR2B9c, a membrane-permeant peptide that disrupts PSD-95/NMDAR binding, correlate with uncoupling NR2B- and/or NR2A-type NMDARs from PSD-95. In this study, we used cultured hippocampal and striatal neurons to test the potency of Tat-NR2B9c on uncoupling NR2 subunits from PSD-95 and protecting against NMDA-induced excitotoxicity. We found that the concentration of Tat-NR2B9c required to dissociate 50% of PSD-95 was fourfold lower for NR2B than NR2A in cultured hippocampal and striatal neurons, and that this concentration correlated tightly with protection against NMDA-induced toxicity in hippocampal neurons without altering NMDAR current. In contrast, NMDAR signaling to cell death in cultured striatal neurons occurred independently of the NR2B/PSD-95 interaction or neuronal nitric oxide synthase activation. These results will facilitate development of neuronal type-specific protective therapies.