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N-methyl-d-aspartate receptors (NMDARs) display differences in their sensitivity to the channel blockers Mg2+ and memantine that are dependent on the identity of the NR2 subunit present in the receptor–channel complex. This study used two-electrode voltage-clamp recordings from Xenopus laevis oocytes expressing recombinant NMDARs to investigate the actions of Mg2+ and memantine at the two NMDARs displaying the largest differences in sensitivity to these blockers, namely NR1/NR2A and NR1/NR2D NMDARs. In addition, NR2A/2D chimeric subunits have been employed to examine the effects of pore-forming elements and ligand-binding domains (LBD) on the potency of the block produced by each of these inhibitors. Our results show that, as previously documented, NR2D-containing NMDARs are less sensitive to voltage-dependent Mg2+ block than their NR2A-containing counterparts. The reduced sensitivity is determined by the M1M2M3 membrane-associated regions, as replacing these regions in NR2A subunits with those found in NR2D subunits results in a ∼10-fold reduction in Mg2+ potency. Intriguingly, replacing the NR2A LBD with that from NR2D subunits results in a ∼2-fold increase in Mg2+ potency. Moreover, when responses mediated by NR1/NR2A NMDARs are evoked by the partial agonist homoquinolinate, rather than glutamate, Mg2+ also displays an increased potency. Memantine block of glutamate-evoked currents is most potent at NR1/NR2D NMDARs, but no differences are observed in its ability to inhibit NR2A-containing or NR2A/2D chimeric NMDARs. We suggest that the potency of block of NMDARs by Mg2+ is influenced not only by pore-forming regions but also the LBD and the resulting conformational changes that occur following agonist binding.
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