GluN3 subunit expression correlates with increased vulnerability of hippocampus and entorhinal cortex to neurodegeneration in a model of temporal lobe epilepsy

J Neurophysiol. 2022 Jun 1;127(6):1496-1510. doi: 10.1152/jn.00070.2022. Epub 2022 Apr 27.


Temporal lobe epilepsy (TLE) is the most common type of epilepsy in adults that is often refractory to antiepileptic medication therapy. Neither the pathology nor the etiology of TLE is fully characterized, although recent studies have established that the two are causally related. TLE pathology entails a stereotypic pattern of neuron loss in hippocampal and parahippocampal regions, predominantly in CA1 subfield of the hippocampus and layer 3 of the medial entorhinal area (MEA), deemed hallmark pathological features of the disease. Through this work, we address the contribution of glutamatergic N-methyl-d-aspartate receptors (NMDARs) to the pathology (vulnerability and pattern of neuronal loss), and by extension to the pathophysiology (Ca2+-induced excitotoxicity), by assaying the spatial expression of their subunit proteins (GluN1, GluN2A, GluN2B, and GluN3A) in these regions using area-specific tissue analysis (ASTA), a novel methodology for harvesting brain chads from hard-to-reach regions within brain slices for Western blotting. Our data suggest gradient expression of the GluN3A subunit along the mid-lateral extent of layer 3 MEA and along the CA1-subicular axis in the hippocampus, unlike GluN1 or GluN2 subunits that are uniformly distributed. Incorporation of GluN3A in the subunit composition of conventional diheteromeric (d-) NMDARs yield triheteromeric (t-) NMDARs which by virtue of their increased selectivity for Ca2+ render neurons vulnerable to excitotoxic damage. Thus, the expression profile of this subunit sheds light on the spatial extent of the pathology observed in these regions and implicates the GluN3 subunit of NMDARs in hippocampal and entorhinal cortical pathology underlying TLE.NEW & NOTEWORTHY The role of the GluN3 subunit in NMDAR-mediated pathophysiology underlying TLE is not known. Here, we demonstrate using ASTA (area-specific tissue analysis) that its expression in specific regions of the entorhinal cortex and the hippocampus is correlated with significant cell loss and neurodegeneration, hallmark features of the disease.

Keywords: CA1 hippocampus; NMDA receptor GluN3 subunit gradients; TLE pathology; area-specific tissue analysis (ASTA); entorhinal cortex.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Entorhinal Cortex* / metabolism
  • Entorhinal Cortex* / pathology
  • Epilepsy* / genetics
  • Epilepsy* / metabolism
  • Epilepsy, Temporal Lobe* / metabolism
  • Hippocampus / metabolism
  • Hippocampus / pathology
  • Humans
  • Membrane Glycoproteins* / metabolism
  • Neurons / metabolism
  • Rats
  • Receptors, N-Methyl-D-Aspartate* / genetics
  • Receptors, N-Methyl-D-Aspartate* / metabolism


  • Grin3a protein, rat
  • Membrane Glycoproteins
  • Receptors, N-Methyl-D-Aspartate