Tonic Activation of GluN2C/GluN2D-Containing NMDA Receptors by Ambient Glutamate Facilitates Cortical Interneuron Maturation

J Neurosci. 2019 May 8;39(19):3611-3626. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.1392-18.2019. Epub 2019 Mar 7.


Developing cortical GABAergic interneurons rely on genetic programs, neuronal activity, and environmental cues to construct inhibitory circuits during early postnatal development. Disruption of these events can cause long-term changes in cortical inhibition and may be involved in neurological disorders associated with inhibitory circuit dysfunction. We hypothesized that tonic glutamate signaling in the neonatal cortex contributes to, and is necessary for, the maturation of cortical interneurons. To test this hypothesis, we used mice of both sexes to quantify extracellular glutamate concentrations in the cortex during development, measure ambient glutamate-mediated activation of developing cortical interneurons, and manipulate tonic glutamate signaling using subtype-specific NMDA receptor antagonists in vitro and in vivo We report that ambient glutamate levels are high (≈100 nm) in the neonatal cortex and decrease (to ≈50 nm) during the first weeks of life, coincident with increases in astrocytic glutamate uptake. Consistent with elevated ambient glutamate, putative parvalbumin-positive interneurons in the cortex (identified using G42:GAD1-eGFP reporter mice) exhibit a transient, tonic NMDA current at the end of the first postnatal week. GluN2C/GluN2D-containing NMDA receptors mediate the majority of this current and contribute to the resting membrane potential and intrinsic properties of developing putative parvalbumin interneurons. Pharmacological blockade of GluN2C/GluN2D-containing NMDA receptors in vivo during the period of tonic interneuron activation, but not later, leads to lasting decreases in interneuron morphological complexity and causes deficits in cortical inhibition later in life. These results demonstrate that dynamic ambient glutamate signaling contributes to cortical interneuron maturation via tonic activation of GluN2C/GluN2D-containing NMDA receptors.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT Inhibitory GABAergic interneurons make up 20% of cortical neurons and are critical to controlling cortical network activity. Dysfunction of cortical inhibition is associated with multiple neurological disorders, including epilepsy. Establishing inhibitory cortical networks requires in utero proliferation, differentiation, and migration of immature GABAergic interneurons, and subsequent postnatal morphological maturation and circuit integration. Here, we demonstrate that ambient glutamate provides tonic activation of immature, putative parvalbumin-positive GABAergic interneurons in the neonatal cortex via high-affinity NMDA receptors. When this activation is blocked, GABAergic interneuron maturation is disrupted, and cortical networks exhibit lasting abnormal hyperexcitability. We conclude that temporally precise activation of developing cortical interneurons by ambient glutamate is critically important for establishing normal cortical inhibition.

Keywords: NMDA receptor; ambient glutamate; cortex; cortical interneuron; developmental; inhibition.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Animals, Newborn
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Excitatory Amino Acid Antagonists / pharmacology
  • Extracellular Fluid / drug effects
  • Extracellular Fluid / metabolism
  • Female
  • Glutamic Acid / metabolism*
  • Interneurons / drug effects
  • Interneurons / metabolism*
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Organ Culture Techniques
  • Receptors, N-Methyl-D-Aspartate / agonists
  • Receptors, N-Methyl-D-Aspartate / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Receptors, N-Methyl-D-Aspartate / metabolism*
  • Sensorimotor Cortex / drug effects
  • Sensorimotor Cortex / metabolism*


  • Excitatory Amino Acid Antagonists
  • NR2C NMDA receptor
  • NR2D NMDA receptor
  • Receptors, N-Methyl-D-Aspartate
  • Glutamic Acid