Different Mechanisms of Ca2+ Transport in NMDA and Ca2+-permeable AMPA Glutamate Receptor Channels

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The channel of the glutamate N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor (NMDAR) transports Ca2+ approximately four times more efficiently than that of Ca2+-permeable α-amino-3-hydroxy-5-methyl-4-isoxazolepropionate receptors (AMPAR). To investigate the basis of this difference in these glutamate receptors (GluRs), we measured the ratio of Cs+ efflux and Ca2+ influx in recombinant NMDAR and Ca2+-permeable AMPAR channels expressed in human embryonic kidney 293 (HEK 293) cells over a wide voltage range. At any one potential, this biionic flux ratio was measured by quantifying the total charge and the charge carried by Ca2+ using whole-cell currents and fluorometric techniques (dye overload) with Cs+ internally and Ca2+ externally (1.8 or 10 mM) as the only permeant ions. In AMPAR channels, composed of either GluR-A(Q) or GluR-B(Q) subunits, the biionic flux ratio had a biionic flux-ratio exponent of 1, consistent with the prediction of the Goldman-Hodgkin-Katz current equation. In contrast, for NMDAR channels composed of NR1 and NR2A subunits, the biionic flux-ratio exponent was ∼2, indicating a deviation from Goldman-Hodgkin-Katz. Consistent with these results, in NMDAR channels under biionic conditions with high external Ca2+ and Cs+ as the reference ions, Ca2+ permeability (PCa/PCs) was concentration dependent, being highest around physiological concentrations (1-1.8 mM; PCa/PCs ≈ 6.1) and reduced at both higher (110 mM; PCa/PCs ≈ 2.6) and lower (0.18 mM; PCa/PCs ≈ 2.2) concentrations. PCa/PCs in AMPAR channels was not concentration dependent, being around 1.65 in 0.3-110 mM Ca2+. In AMPAR and NMDAR channels, the Q/R/N site is a critical determinant of Ca2+ permeability. However, mutant AMPAR channels, which had an asparagine substituted at the Q/R site, also showed a biionic flux-ratio exponent of 1 and concentration-independent permeability ratios, indicating that the difference in Ca2+ transport is not due to the amino acid residue located at the Q/R/N site. We suggest that the difference in Ca2+ transport properties between the glutamate receptor subtypes reflects that the pore of NMDAR channels has multiple sites for Ca2+, whereas that of AMPAR channels only a single site.

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