Normal aging is generally characterized by a slow decline of cognitive abilities albeit with marked individual differences. Several animal models have been studied to explore the molecular and cellular mechanisms underlying this phenomenon. The excitatory neurotransmitter glutamate and its receptors have been closely linked to spatial learning and hippocampus-dependent memory processes. For decades, ionotropic glutamate receptors have been known to play a critical role in synaptic plasticity, a form of adaptation regulating memory formation. Over the past 10 years, several groups have shown the importance of group 1 metabotropic glutamate receptor (mGluR) in successful cognitive aging. These G-protein-coupled receptors are enriched in the hippocampal formation and interact physically with other proteins in the membrane including glutamate ionotropic receptors. Synaptic plasticity is crucial to maintain cognitive abilities and long-term depression (LTD) induced by group 1 mGluR activation, which has been linked to memory in the aging brain. The translation and synthesis of proteins by mGluR-LTD modulate ionotropic receptor trafficking and expression of immediate early genes related to cognition. Fragile X syndrome, a genetic form of autism characterized by memory deficits, has been associated to mGluR receptor malfunction and aberrant activation of its downstream signaling pathways. Dysfunction of mGluR could also be involved in neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer's disease (AD). Indeed, beta-amyloid, the main component of insoluble senile plaques and one of the hallmarks of AD, occludes mGluR-dependent LTD leading to diminished functional synapses. This review highlights recent findings regarding mGluR signaling, related synaptic plasticity, and their potential involvement in normal aging and neurological disorders.
Keywords: aging; learning; memory; metabotropic glutamate receptors; synaptic plasticity.