GluN2B Subunit of the NMDA Receptor: The Keystone of the Effects of Alcohol During Neurodevelopment

Neurochem Res. 2019 Jan;44(1):78-88. doi: 10.1007/s11064-017-2462-y. Epub 2018 Jan 6.


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.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Alcohol Drinking / adverse effects*
  • Alcohol Drinking / metabolism*
  • Animals
  • Brain / drug effects
  • Brain / growth & development*
  • Brain / metabolism*
  • Ethanol / administration & dosage
  • Ethanol / metabolism*
  • Ethanol / toxicity
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Neurodevelopmental Disorders / chemically induced
  • Neurodevelopmental Disorders / metabolism
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects / chemically induced
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects / metabolism
  • Protein Subunits / biosynthesis
  • Receptors, N-Methyl-D-Aspartate / biosynthesis*


  • NR2B NMDA receptor
  • Protein Subunits
  • Receptors, N-Methyl-D-Aspartate
  • Ethanol