The N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptor is a subtype of the ionotropic glutamate receptor that plays a pivotal role in synaptic mechanisms of learning and memory. We tested the hypothesis that NMDA receptor protein levels are abnormal in Alzheimer's disease (AD). By immunoblotting, we assessed levels of both non-phosphorylated and phosphorylated receptor subunit proteins from four separate regions of 16 post-mortem brains. Three patient groups with thorough pre-mortem neuropsychological testing were evaluated, including AD, early AD (p-AD), and control patients. Protein levels and phosphorylation status of NMDA receptor subunits NR1, NR2A and NR2B were correlated with measurements of cognitive performance. Selective regional reductions in NMDA receptor subunit protein levels were found in AD compared to controls, but protein levels in the p-AD group were similar to controls. Reductions of NR1 (53%, P < 0.05) and NR2B (40%, P < 0.05) were identified in hippocampus. Reductions of NR2A (39%, P < 0.05) and NR2B (31%, P < 0.01) were found in entorhinal cortex. No reductions were noted in occipital cortex and caudate. Phosphorylated NR2A (30%, P < 0.05) and NR2B (56%, P < 0.01) were selectively reduced in entorhinal cortex in AD when compared to controls. Both phosphorylated and non-phosphorylated NMDA receptor protein levels in entorhinal cortex correlated with Mini-Mental Status Examination (MMSE) and Blessed (BIMC) scores. The losses of phosphorylated and non-phosphorylated NMDA receptor subunit proteins correlated with changes in synaptobrevin levels (a presynaptic protein), but not with age or post-mortem interval. Our results demonstrate that NMDA receptor subunits are selectively and differentially reduced in areas of AD brain, and these abnormalities correlate with presynaptic alterations and cognitive deficits in AD.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Clinical Neurology