Calcineurin Controls Hypothalamic NMDA Receptor Activity and Sympathetic Outflow

Circ Res. 2022 Aug 5;131(4):345-360. doi: 10.1161/CIRCRESAHA.122.320976. Epub 2022 Jul 15.


Rationale: Hypertension is a common and serious adverse effect of calcineurin inhibitors, including cyclosporine and tacrolimus (FK506). Although increased sympathetic nerve discharges are associated with calcineurin inhibitor-induced hypertension, the sources of excess sympathetic outflow and underlying mechanisms remain elusive. Calcineurin (protein phosphatase-2B) is broadly expressed in the brain, including the paraventricular nuclear (PVN) of the hypothalamus, which is critically involved in regulating sympathetic vasomotor tone.

Objective: We determined whether prolonged treatment with the calcineurin inhibitor causes elevated sympathetic output and persistent hypertension by potentiating synaptic N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptor activity in the PVN.

Methods and results: Telemetry recordings showed that systemic administration of FK506 (3 mg/kg per day) for 14 days caused a gradual and profound increase in arterial blood pressure in rats, which lasted at least 7 days after discontinuing FK506 treatment. Correspondingly, systemic treatment with FK506 markedly reduced calcineurin activity in the PVN and circumventricular organs, but not rostral ventrolateral medulla, and increased the phosphorylation level and synaptic trafficking of NMDA receptors in the PVN. Immunocytochemistry labeling showed that calcineurin was expressed in presympathetic neurons in the PVN. Whole-cell patch-clamp recordings in brain slices revealed that treatment with FK506 increased baseline firing activity of PVN presympathetic neurons; this increase was blocked by the NMDA or α-amino-3-hydroxy-5-methyl-4-isoxazolepropionic acid receptor antagonist. Also, treatment with FK506 markedly increased presynaptic and postsynaptic NMDA receptor activity of PVN presympathetic neurons. Furthermore, microinjection of the NMDA or α-amino-3-hydroxy-5-methyl-4-isoxazolepropionic acid receptor antagonist into the PVN of anesthetized rats preferentially attenuated renal sympathetic nerve discharges and blood pressure elevated by FK506 treatment. In addition, systemic administration of memantine, a clinically used NMDA receptor antagonist, effectively attenuated FK506 treatment-induced hypertension in conscious rats.

Conclusions: Our findings reveal that normal calcineurin activity in the PVN constitutively restricts sympathetic vasomotor tone via suppressing NMDA receptor activity, which may be targeted for treating calcineurin inhibitor-induced hypertension.

Keywords: autonomic nervous system; blood pressure; calcineurin inhibitors; hypertension; phosphorylation; receptors, glutamate; sympathetic nervous system.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Blood Pressure
  • Calcineurin
  • Calcineurin Inhibitors / pharmacology
  • Hypertension*
  • Hypothalamus / metabolism
  • N-Methylaspartate / pharmacology
  • Paraventricular Hypothalamic Nucleus
  • Rats
  • Receptors, N-Methyl-D-Aspartate* / metabolism
  • Sympathetic Nervous System
  • Tacrolimus / pharmacology
  • alpha-Amino-3-hydroxy-5-methyl-4-isoxazolepropionic Acid / pharmacology


  • Calcineurin Inhibitors
  • Receptors, N-Methyl-D-Aspartate
  • N-Methylaspartate
  • alpha-Amino-3-hydroxy-5-methyl-4-isoxazolepropionic Acid
  • Calcineurin
  • Tacrolimus