N-methyl-D-aspartate receptors (NMDARs) are known for their role in the induction of long-term potentiation (LTP). Here we start by reviewing the early evidence for their role in LTP at CA1 synapses in the hippocampus. We then discuss more recent evidence that NMDAR dependent synaptic plasticity at these synapses can be separated into mechanistically distinct components. An initial phase of the synaptic potentiation, which is generally termed short-term potentiation (STP), decays in an activity-dependent manner and comprises two components that differ in their kinetics and NMDAR subtype dependence. The faster component involves activation of GluN2A and GluN2B subunits whereas the slower component involves activation of GluN2B and GluN2D subunits. The stable phase of potentiation, commonly referred to as LTP, requires activation of primarily triheteromeric NMDARs containing both GluN2A and GluN2B subunits. In new work, we compare STP with a rebound potentiation (RP) that is induced by NMDA application and conclude that they are different phenomena. We also report that NMDAR dependent long-term depression (NMDAR-LTD) is sensitive to a glycine site NMDAR antagonist. We conclude that NMDARs are not synonymous for either LTP or memory. Whilst important for the induction of LTP at many synapses in the CNS, not all forms of LTP require the activation of NMDARs. Furthermore, NMDARs mediate the induction of other forms of synaptic plasticity and are important for synaptic transmission. It is, therefore, not possible to equate NMDARs with LTP though they are intimately linked. This article is part of a Special Issue entitled SI: Brain and Memory.
Keywords: Hippocampus; Long-term depression, LTD; Long-term potentiation, LTP; N-methyl-d-aspartate receptors, NMDARs; N-methyl-d-aspartate, NMDA; Short-term potentiation, STP.
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