N-Methyl d-Aspartate Receptor Expression Patterns in the Human Fetal Cerebral Cortex

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N-methyl d-aspartate receptors (NMDARs), a subtype of glutamate receptor, have important functional roles in cellular activity and neuronal development. They are well-studied in rodent and adult human brains, but limited information is available about their distribution in the human fetal cerebral cortex. Here we show that 3 NMDAR subunits, NR1, NR2A, and NR2B, are expressed in the human cerebral cortex during the second trimester of gestation, a period of intense neurogenesis and synaptogenesis. With increasing fetal age, expression of the NMDAR-encoding genes Grin1 (NR1) and Grin2a (NR2A) increased while Grin2b (NR2B) expression decreased. The protein levels of all 3 subunits paralleled the changes in gene expression. On cryosections, all 3 subunits were expressed in proliferative ventricular and subventricular zones, in radial glia, and in intermediate progenitor cells, consistent with their role in the proliferation of cortical progenitor cells and in the determination of their respective fates. The detection of NR1, NR2A, and NR2B in both glutamatergic and GABAergic neurons of the cortical plate suggests the involvement of NMDARs in the maturation of human cortical neurons and in early synapse formation. Our results and previous studies in rodents suggest that NMDAR expression in the developing human brain is evolutionarily conserved.

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