AMPA and NMDA receptors expressed by differentiating Xenopus spinal neurons

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N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptors are often the first ionotropic glutamate receptors expressed at early stages of development and appear to influence neuronal differentiation by mediating Ca2+ influx. Although less well studied, α-amino-3-hydroxy-5-methyl-4-isoxazolepropionic acid (AMPA) receptors also can generate Ca2+ elevations and may have developmental roles. We document the presence of AMPA and NMDA class receptors and the absence of kainate class receptors with whole cell voltage-clamp recordings from Xenopus embryonic spinal neurons differentiated in vitro. Reversal potential measurements indicate that AMPA receptors are permeable to Ca2+ both in differentiated neurons and at the time they first are expressed. The P(Ca)/P(monocation) of 1.9 is close to that of clone Ca2+-permeable AMPA receptors expressed in heterologous systems. Ca2+ imaging reveals that Ca2+ elevations are elicited by AMPA or NMDA in the absence of Mg2+. The amplitudes and durations of these agonist-induced Ca2+ elevations are similar to those of spontaneous Ca2+ transients known to act as differentiation signals in these cells. Two sources of Ca2+ amplify AMPA- and NMDA-induced Ca2+ elevations. Activation of voltage-gated Ca2+ channels by AMPA- or NMDA-mediated depolarization contributes ~15 or 30% of cytosolic Ca2+ elevations, respectively. Activation of either class of receptor produces elevations of Ca2+ that elicit further release of Ca2+ from thapsigargin-sensitive but ryanodine-insensitive stores, contributing an additional ~30% of Ca2+ elevations. Voltage-clamp recordings and Ca2+ imaging both show that these spinal neurons express functional AMPA receptors soon after neurite initiation and before expression of NMDA receptors. The Ca2+ permeability of AMPA receptors, their ability to generate significant elevations of [Ca2+](i), and their appearance before synapse formation position them to play roles in neural development. Spontaneous release of agonists from growth cones is detected with glutamate receptors in outside- out patches, suggesting that spinal neurons are early, nonsynaptic sources of glutamate that can influence neuronal differentiation in vivo.

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Journal of Neurophysiology

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