Transmembrane AMPA receptor regulatory protein regulation of competitive antagonism: a problem of interpretation

J Physiol. 2011 Nov 15;589(Pt 22):5383-90. doi: 10.1113/jphysiol.2011.219485. Epub 2011 Oct 3.


Synaptic AMPA receptors are greatly influenced by a family of transmembrane AMPA receptor regulatory proteins (TARPs) which control trafficking, channel gating and pharmacology. The prototypical TARP, stargazin (or γ2), shifts the blocking ability of several AMPAR-selective compounds including the commonly used quinoxalinedione antagonists, CNQX and NBQX. Stargazin's effect on CNQX is particularly intriguing as it not only apparently lowers the potency of block, as with NBQX, but also renders it a partial agonist. Given this, agonist behaviour by CNQX has been speculated to account for its weaker blocking effect on AMPAR-TARP complexes. Here we show that this is not the case. The apparent effect of stargazin on CNQX antagonism can be almost entirely explained by an increase in the apparent affinity for l-glutamate (l-Glu), a full agonist and neurotransmitter at AMPAR synapses. Partial agonism at best plays a minor role but not through channel gating per se but rather because CNQX elicits AMPAR desensitization. Our study reveals that CNQX is best thought of as a non-competitive antagonist at glutamatergic synapses due to the predominance of non-equilibrium conditions. Consequently, CNQX primarily reports the proportion of AMPARs available for activation but may also impose additional block by receptor desensitization.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • 6-Cyano-7-nitroquinoxaline-2,3-dione / pharmacology*
  • Calcium Channels / physiology*
  • Cell Line
  • Excitatory Amino Acid Antagonists / pharmacology*
  • Glutamic Acid / pharmacology
  • Humans
  • Quinoxalines / pharmacology
  • Receptors, AMPA / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Receptors, AMPA / physiology


  • CACNG2 protein, human
  • Calcium Channels
  • Excitatory Amino Acid Antagonists
  • Quinoxalines
  • Receptors, AMPA
  • 2,3-dioxo-6-nitro-7-sulfamoylbenzo(f)quinoxaline
  • Glutamic Acid
  • 6-Cyano-7-nitroquinoxaline-2,3-dione