The glutamatergic system plays a central role in both the acute and chronic effects of ethanol. Among all the glutamate receptors the ionotropic NMDA receptors are crucial because of their role in synaptic plasticity. A large body of evidences suggests that short-term and long-term effects of ethanol may change synaptic plasticity via an alteration of the expression of the GluN2B subunit, one constitutive element of the NMDA receptor. The present review is focusing on the role of the GluN2B subunit after ethanol exposure during early life (in utero and adolescence) and also at adulthood. The roles of other NMDA subunits are also discussed in the context of the increasing evidence that the ratio of the different subunits, such as GluN2A-to-GluN2B, seems to better reflect the effects of ethanol and to explain how ethanol exposure can have short lasting and long lasting effects on synaptic plasticity, cognitive processes and some of the ethanol-related behaviors.
Keywords: Adolescence; Alcohol; GLUN2 subunit; Glutamate; In utero; NMDA.