To explore the hypothesis that L-phenylalanine (L-Phe) depresses glutamatergic synaptic transmission and thus contributes to brain dysfunction in phenylketonuria (PKU), the effects of L-Phe on spontaneous and miniature excitatory postsynaptic currents (s/mEPSCs) in rat and mouse hippocampal and cerebrocortical cultured neurons were studied using the patch-clamp technique. L-Phe depressed the amplitude and frequency of both N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) and non-NMDA components of glutamate receptor (GluR) s/mEPSCs. The IC(50) of L-Phe to inhibit non-NMDAR mEPSC frequency was 0.98 +/- 0.13 mM, a brain concentration seen in classical PKU. In contrast, D-Phe had a significantly smaller effect, whereas L-leucine, an amino acid that competes with L-Phe for brain transporter, had no effect on mEPSCs. Unlike GluR s/mEPSCs, GABA receptor mIPSCs were not attenuated by L-Phe. A high extracellular concentration of glycine prevented the attenuation by L-Phe of NMDAR current, activated by exogenous agonist, and of NMDAR s/mEPSC amplitude, but not of NMDAR s/mEPSC frequency. On the other hand, L-Phe significantly depressed non-NMDAR current activated by low but not high concentrations of exogenous agonists. Glycine-independent attenuation of NMDAR s/mEPSC frequency suggests decreased presynaptic glutamate release caused by L-Phe, whereas decreased amplitudes of NMDAR and non-NMDAR s/mEPSCs are consistent with competition of L-Phe for the glycine- and glutamate-binding sites of NMDARs and non-NMDARs, respectively. The finding that GluR activity is significantly depressed at conditions characteristic of classical PKU indicates a potentially important contribution of impaired GluR function to PKU-related mental retardation and provides important insights into the potential physiological consequences of impaired GluR function.
Copyright 2003 Wiley-Liss, Inc.