Knock-in Mice Expressing an Ethanol-Resistant GluN2A NMDA Receptor Subunit Show Altered Responses to Ethanol

Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 2020 Feb;44(2):479-491. doi: 10.1111/acer.14273. Epub 2020 Jan 14.


Background: N-methyl-D-aspartate receptors (NMDARs) are glutamate-activated, heterotetrameric ligand-gated ion channels critically important in virtually all aspects of glutamatergic signaling. Ethanol (EtOH) inhibition of NMDARs is thought to mediate specific actions of EtOH during acute and chronic exposure. Studies from our laboratory, and others, identified EtOH-sensitive sites within specific transmembrane (TM) domains involved in channel gating as well as those in subdomains of extracellular and intracellular regions of GluN1 and GluN2 subunits that affect channel function. In this study, we characterize for the first time the physiological and behavioral effects of EtOH on knock-in mice expressing a GluN2A subunit that shows reduced sensitivity to EtOH.

Methods: A battery of tests evaluating locomotion, anxiety, sedation, motor coordination, and voluntary alcohol intake were performed in wild-type mice and those expressing the GluN2A A825W knock-in mutation. Whole-cell patch-clamp electrophysiological recordings were used to confirm reduced EtOH sensitivity of NMDAR-mediated currents in 2 separate brain regions (mPFC and the cerebellum) where the GluN2A subunit is known to contribute to NMDAR-mediated responses.

Results: Male and female mice homozygous for the GluN2A(A825W) knock-in mutation showed reduced EtOH inhibition of NMDAR-mediated synaptic currents in mPFC and cerebellar neurons as compared to their wild-type counterparts. GluN2A(A825W) male but not female mice were less sensitive to the sedative and motor-incoordinating effects of EtOH and showed a rightward shift in locomotor-stimulating effects of EtOH. There was no effect of the mutation on EtOH-induced anxiolysis or voluntary EtOH consumption in either male or female mice.

Conclusions: These findings show that expression of EtOH-resistant GluN2A NMDARs results in selective and sex-specific changes in the behavioral sensitivity to EtOH.

Keywords: Alcohol Consumption; Alcohol Sensitivity; Cerebellum; GluN2A Subunit; Medial Prefrontal Cortex; NMDA Receptor.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural