NMDA receptor channel gating control by the pre-M1 helix

J Gen Physiol. 2020 Apr 6;152(4):e201912362. doi: 10.1085/jgp.201912362.


The NMDA receptor (NMDAR) is an ionotropic glutamate receptor formed from the tetrameric assembly of GluN1 and GluN2 subunits. Within the flexible linker between the agonist binding domain (ABD) and the M1 helix of the pore-forming transmembrane helical bundle lies a two-turn, extracellular pre-M1 helix positioned parallel to the plasma membrane and in van der Waals contact with the M3 helix thought to constitute the channel gate. The pre-M1 helix is tethered to the bilobed ABD, where agonist-induced conformational changes initiate activation. Additionally, it is a locus for de novo mutations associated with neurological disorders, is near other disease-associated de novo sites within the transmembrane domain, and is a structural determinant of subunit-selective modulators. To investigate the role of the pre-M1 helix in channel gating, we performed scanning mutagenesis across the GluN2A pre-M1 helix and recorded whole-cell macroscopic and single channel currents from HEK293 cell-attached patches. We identified two residues at which mutations perturb channel open probability, the mean open time, and the glutamate deactivation time course. We identified a subunit-specific network of aromatic amino acids located in and around the GluN2A pre-M1 helix to be important for gating. Based on these results, we are able to hypothesize about the role of the pre-M1 helix in other NMDAR subunits based on sequence and structure homology. Our results emphasize the role of the pre-M1 helix in channel gating, implicate the surrounding amino acid environment in this mechanism, and suggest unique subunit-specific contributions of pre-M1 helices to GluN1 and GluN2 gating.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Amino Acids / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Binding Sites / physiology
  • Cell Line
  • HEK293 Cells
  • Humans
  • Ion Channel Gating / physiology*
  • Protein Domains / physiology
  • Protein Subunits / metabolism
  • Receptors, N-Methyl-D-Aspartate / metabolism*
  • Xenopus


  • Amino Acids
  • Protein Subunits
  • Receptors, N-Methyl-D-Aspartate