Ethanol affects NMDA receptor signaling at climbing fiber-Purkinje cell synapses in mice and impairs cerebellar LTD

J Neurophysiol. 2013 Mar;109(5):1333-42. doi: 10.1152/jn.00350.2012. Epub 2012 Dec 5.


Ethanol profoundly influences cerebellar circuit function and motor control. It has recently been demonstrated that functional N-methyl-(D)-aspartate (NMDA) receptors are postsynaptically expressed at climbing fiber (CF) to Purkinje cell synapses in the adult cerebellum. Using whole cell patch-clamp recordings from mouse cerebellar slices, we examined whether ethanol can affect NMDA receptor signaling in mature Purkinje cells. NMDA receptor-mediated currents were isolated by bath application of the α-amino-3-hydroxy-5-methyl-4-isoxazolepropionate (AMPA) receptor antagonist 2,3-dihydroxy-6-nitro-7-sulfamoylbenzol[f]quinoxaline (NBQX). The remaining (D)-2-amino-5-phosphonovaleric acid ((D)-APV)-sensitive current was reduced by ethanol at concentrations as low as 10 mM. At a concentration of 50 mM ethanol, the blockade of (D)-APV-sensitive CF-excitatory postsynaptic currents was significantly stronger. Ethanol also altered the waveform of CF-evoked complex spikes by reducing the afterdepolarization. This effect was not seen when NMDA receptors were blocked by (D)-APV before ethanol wash-in. In contrast to CF synaptic transmission, parallel fiber (PF) synaptic inputs were not affected by ethanol. Finally, ethanol (10 mM) impaired long-term depression (LTD) at PF to Purkinje cell synapses as induced under control conditions by paired PF and CF activity. However, LTD induced by pairing PF stimulation with depolarizing voltage steps (substituting for CF activation) was not blocked by ethanol. These observations suggest that the sensitivity of cerebellar circuit function and plasticity to low concentrations of ethanol may be caused by an ethanol-mediated impairment of NMDA receptor signaling at CF synapses onto cerebellar Purkinje cells.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • 2-Amino-5-phosphonovalerate / pharmacology
  • Animals
  • Axons / physiology
  • Cerebellum / physiology*
  • Ethanol / pharmacology*
  • Excitatory Amino Acid Antagonists / pharmacology
  • Excitatory Postsynaptic Potentials / drug effects
  • Long-Term Synaptic Depression / drug effects*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Purkinje Cells / physiology*
  • Quinoxalines / pharmacology
  • Receptors, N-Methyl-D-Aspartate / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Receptors, N-Methyl-D-Aspartate / metabolism*
  • Signal Transduction
  • Synapses / physiology*


  • Excitatory Amino Acid Antagonists
  • Quinoxalines
  • Receptors, N-Methyl-D-Aspartate
  • 2,3-dioxo-6-nitro-7-sulfamoylbenzo(f)quinoxaline
  • Ethanol
  • 2-Amino-5-phosphonovalerate