Molecular mechanisms associated with long-term consolidation of the NMDA signals

Life Sci. 2000 Jun 16;67(4):335-64. doi: 10.1016/s0024-3205(00)00632-9.


The N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) subtype of glutamate receptors in the mammalian brain plays a central role in synaptic plasticity underlying refinement of neuronal connections during development, or processes like long-term potentiation (LTP), learning and memory. On the other hand, over-activation of glutamate receptors leading to neurodegeneration has been implicated in major areas of brain pathology. Any sustained effect of a transient NMDA receptor activation is likely to involve signaling to the nucleus and coordinated changes in gene expression. Classically, a set of immediate-early genes is induced first; some of them are themselves transcription factors that control expression of other target genes. This review deals with the induction of Fos, Jun and Egr (Krox) transcription factors in response to NMDA or non-NMDA (AMPA/kainate) ionotropic receptor agonists in vivo or in neuronal cultures in vitro. In addition, the mechanism of induction of a model immediate-early gene c-fos in response to Ca2+ influx through activated NMDA receptors or voltage-sensitive calcium channels is discussed. Both modes of calcium entry induce c-fos via activation of multiple signaling pathways that converge on constitutive transcription factors cAMP-response element-binding protein (CREB), serum response factor (SRF) and a ternary complex factor (TCF), such as Elk-1. In contrast to the traditional view of the NMDA receptor as a ligand-gated calcium channel, whose activation leads to calcium influx and activation of Ca2+/calmodulin-dependent kinases, recent evidence highlights involvement of the Ras/ mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) pathway in the NMDA signaling to the nucleus.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / metabolism*
  • Calcium / metabolism
  • Excitatory Amino Acid Agonists / metabolism*
  • Genes, Immediate-Early / physiology
  • Mice
  • N-Methylaspartate / metabolism*
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology
  • Rats
  • Receptors, N-Methyl-D-Aspartate / metabolism
  • Second Messenger Systems / physiology
  • Signal Transduction*


  • Excitatory Amino Acid Agonists
  • Receptors, N-Methyl-D-Aspartate
  • N-Methylaspartate
  • Calcium