NMDA receptors are altered in the substantia nigra pars reticulata and their blockade ameliorates motor deficits in experimental parkinsonism

Neuropharmacology. 2020 Sep 1:174:108136. doi: 10.1016/j.neuropharm.2020.108136. Epub 2020 May 29.


In Parkinson's disease (PD) reduced levels of dopamine (DA) in the striatum lead to an abnormal circuit activity of the basal ganglia and an increased output through the substantia nigra pars reticulata (SNr) and the globus pallidus internal part. Synaptic inputs to the SNr shape its activity, however, the properties of glutamatergic synaptic transmission in this output nucleus of the basal ganglia in control and DA-depleted conditions are not fully elucidated. Using whole-cell patch-clamp recordings and pharmacological tools, we examined alterations in glutamatergic synaptic transmission in the SNr of a mouse model of PD, i.e. mice with unilateral 6-OHDA lesion of DA neurons in the substantia nigra pars compacta, as compared to control mice. We found that AMPA receptor (AMPAR)-mediated spontaneous and evoked excitatory postsynaptic currents (sEPSCs and eEPSCs) were not altered. The AMPA/NMDA ratio was significantly decreased in 6-OHDA-lesioned mice, suggesting an increased synaptic function of NMDA receptors (NMDARs) in DA-depleted mice. The decay kinetics of NMDAR-eEPSCs were faster in 6-OHDA-lesioned mice, indicating a possible change in the subunit composition of synaptic NMDARs. In control mice NMDAR-eEPSCs were mediated by diheteromeric NMDARs made of GluN2A, GluN2B and GluN2D. In 6-OHDA-lesioned mice the function of diheteromeric NMDARs containing either GluN2B or GluN2D was dramatically decreased, whereas the function of diheteromeric NMDARs made of GluN2A was preserved. Microinjections of an NMDAR antagonist into the SNr of 6-OHDA-lesioned mice resulted in significant improvements in spontaneous locomotion. This study identifies novel alterations occurring at excitatory synapses in the basal ganglia output nucleus following DA depletion. An increased synaptic NMDAR function, due to an altered subunit composition, might contribute to hyperactivation of SNr neurons in the DA depleted state and to motor impairments in PD.

Keywords: Basal ganglia; GluN2 subunits; NMDA receptors; Parkinson's disease; Substantia nigra reticulata; Synaptic transmission.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Excitatory Amino Acid Antagonists / pharmacology
  • Excitatory Amino Acid Antagonists / therapeutic use
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Motor Disorders / chemically induced
  • Motor Disorders / drug therapy
  • Motor Disorders / metabolism
  • Oxidopamine / toxicity
  • Parkinsonian Disorders / chemically induced
  • Parkinsonian Disorders / drug therapy*
  • Parkinsonian Disorders / metabolism*
  • Pars Reticulata / drug effects
  • Pars Reticulata / metabolism*
  • Receptors, N-Methyl-D-Aspartate / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Receptors, N-Methyl-D-Aspartate / metabolism*
  • Substantia Nigra / drug effects
  • Substantia Nigra / metabolism*
  • Synaptic Transmission / drug effects
  • Synaptic Transmission / physiology


  • Excitatory Amino Acid Antagonists
  • Receptors, N-Methyl-D-Aspartate
  • Oxidopamine