Signal transduction at vertebrate excitatory synapses involves the rapid activation of AMPA (α-amino-3-hydroxy-5-methyl-4-isoxazole propionate) receptors, glutamate-gated ion channels whose four subunits assemble as a dimer-of-dimers. Technical advances in cryo-electron microscopy brought a slew of full-length structures of AMPA receptors, on their own and in combination with auxiliary subunits. These structures indicate that dimers might undergo substantial lateral motions during gating, opening up the extracellular layer along the central twofold symmetry axis. We used bifunctional methanethiosulfonate cross-linkers to calibrate the conformations found in functional AMPA receptors in the presence and absence of the auxiliary subunit Stargazin. Our data indicate that extracellular layer of AMPA receptors can get trapped in stable, opened-up conformations, especially upon long exposures to glutamate. In contrast, Stargazin limits this conformational flexibility. Thus, under synaptic conditions, where brief glutamate exposures and the presence of auxiliary proteins dominate, extracellular domains of AMPA receptors likely stay compact during gating.
- ionotropic glutamate receptors
- ligand-gated ion channels
- molecular biophysics
- patch-clamp electrophyioslogy
- structural biology
- structure and function
- synaptic transmission