Early increase in extrasynaptic NMDA receptor signaling and expression contributes to phenotype onset in Huntington's disease mice

Neuron. 2010 Jan 28;65(2):178-90. doi: 10.1016/j.neuron.2010.01.008.


N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor (NMDAR) excitotoxicity is implicated in the pathogenesis of Huntington's disease (HD), a late-onset neurodegenerative disorder. However, NMDARs are poor therapeutic targets, due to their essential physiological role. Recent studies demonstrate that synaptic NMDAR transmission drives neuroprotective gene transcription, whereas extrasynaptic NMDAR activation promotes cell death. We report specifically increased extrasynaptic NMDAR expression, current, and associated reductions in nuclear CREB activation in HD mouse striatum. The changes are observed in the absence of dendritic morphological alterations, before and after phenotype onset, correlate with mutation severity, and require caspase-6 cleavage of mutant huntingtin. Moreover, pharmacological block of extrasynaptic NMDARs with memantine reversed signaling and motor learning deficits. Our data demonstrate elevated extrasynaptic NMDAR activity in an animal model of neurodegenerative disease. We provide a candidate mechanism linking several pathways previously implicated in HD pathogenesis and demonstrate successful early therapeutic intervention in mice.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials / genetics
  • Animals
  • Disease Models, Animal*
  • Gene Expression Regulation*
  • Huntington Disease / genetics
  • Huntington Disease / metabolism*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Phenotype*
  • Receptors, N-Methyl-D-Aspartate / biosynthesis*
  • Receptors, N-Methyl-D-Aspartate / genetics
  • Signal Transduction / genetics
  • Signal Transduction / physiology*
  • Synapses / chemistry
  • Synapses / genetics
  • Synapses / metabolism*
  • Synaptic Transmission / genetics
  • Time Factors


  • Receptors, N-Methyl-D-Aspartate