The multifaceted subunit interfaces of ionotropic glutamate receptors

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The past fifteen years has seen a revolution in our understanding of ionotropic glutamate receptor (iGluR) structure, starting with the first view of the ligand binding domain (LBD) published in 1998, and in many ways culminating in the publication of the full-length structure of GluA2 in 2009. These reports have revealed not only the central role played by subunit interfaces in iGluR function, but also myriad binding sites within interfaces for endogenous and exogenous factors. Changes in the conformation of inter-subunit interfaces are central to transmission of ligand gating into pore opening (itself a rearrangement of interfaces), and subsequent closure through desensitization. With the exception of the agonist binding site, which is located entirely within individual subunits, almost all modulatory factors affecting iGluRs appear to bind to sites in subunit interfaces. This review seeks to summarize what we currently understand about the diverse roles interfaces play in iGluR function, and to highlight questions for future research.

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