Multiple domains in the C-terminus of NMDA receptor GluN2B subunit contribute to neuronal death following in vitro ischemia

Neurobiol Dis. 2016 May;89:223-34. doi: 10.1016/j.nbd.2015.11.007. Epub 2015 Nov 12.


Global cerebral ischemia induces selective degeneration of specific subsets of neurons throughout the brain, particularly in the hippocampus and cortex. One of the major hallmarks of cerebral ischemia is excitotoxicity, characterized by overactivation of glutamate receptors leading to intracellular Ca(2+) overload and ultimately neuronal demise. N-methyl-d-aspartate receptors (NMDARs) are considered to be largely responsible for excitotoxic injury due to their high Ca(2+) permeability. In the hippocampus and cortex, these receptors are most prominently composed of combinations of two GluN1 subunits and two GluN2A and/or GluN2B subunits. Due to the controversy regarding the differential role of GluN2A and GluN2B subunits in excitotoxic cell death, we investigated the role of GluN2B in the activation of pro-death signaling following an in vitro model of global ischemia, oxygen and glucose deprivation (OGD). For this purpose, we used GluN2B(-/-) mouse cortical cultures and observed that OGD-induced damage was reduced in these neurons, and partially prevented in wild-type rat neurons by a selective GluN2B antagonist. Notably, we found a crucial role of the C-terminal domain of the GluN2B subunit in triggering excitotoxic signaling. Indeed, expression of YFP-GluN2B C-terminus mutants for the binding sites to post-synaptic density protein 95 (PSD95), Ca(2+)-calmodulin kinase IIα (CaMKIIα) or clathrin adaptor protein 2 (AP2) failed to mediate neuronal death in OGD conditions. We focused on the GluN2B-CaMKIIα interaction and found a determinant role of this interaction in OGD-induced death. Inhibition or knock-down of CaMKIIα exerted a neuroprotective effect against OGD-induced death, whereas overexpression of this kinase had a detrimental effect. Importantly, in comparison with neurons overexpressing wild-type CaMKIIα, neurons overexpressing a mutant form of the kinase (CaMKII-I205K), unable to interact with GluN2B, were partially protected against OGD-induced damage. Taken together, our results identify crucial determinants in the C-terminal domain of GluN2B subunits in promoting neuronal death in ischemic conditions. These mechanisms underlie the divergent roles of the GluN2A- and GluN2B-NMDARs in determining neuronal fate in cerebral ischemia.

Keywords: AP2; CaMKIIα; Cerebral ischemia; GluN2B; NMDA receptors; Oxygen-glucose deprivation; PSD95.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain Ischemia / metabolism*
  • Calcium-Calmodulin-Dependent Protein Kinase Type 2 / metabolism
  • Cell Death*
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Cerebral Cortex / metabolism
  • Hippocampus / metabolism
  • In Vitro Techniques
  • Mice
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Neurons / metabolism*
  • Protein Subunits / metabolism
  • Rats
  • Receptors, N-Methyl-D-Aspartate / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Receptors, N-Methyl-D-Aspartate / genetics
  • Receptors, N-Methyl-D-Aspartate / metabolism*


  • NR2B NMDA receptor
  • Protein Subunits
  • Receptors, N-Methyl-D-Aspartate
  • Calcium-Calmodulin-Dependent Protein Kinase Type 2