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Calcium flux-independent NMDA receptor activity is required for A oligomer-induced synaptic loss

Birnbaum, JH;Bali, J;Rajendran, L;Nitsch, RM;Tackenberg, C;

Synaptic loss is one of the major features of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and correlates with the degree of dementia. N-methyl-D-aspartate receptors (NMDARs) have been shown to mediate downstream effects of the -amyloid peptide (A) in AD models. NMDARs can trigger intracellular cascades via Ca(2+) entry, however, also Ca(2+)-independent (metabotropic) functions of NMDARs have been described. We aimed to determine whether ionotropic or metabotropic NMDAR signaling is required for the induction of synaptic loss by A. We show that endogenous A as well as exogenously added synthetic A oligomers induced dendritic spine loss and reductions in pre- and postsynaptic protein levels in hippocampal slice cultures. Synaptic alterations were mitigated by blocking glutamate binding to NMDARs using NMDAR antagonist APV, but not by preventing ion flux with Ca(2+) chelator BAPTA or open-channel blockers MK-801 or memantine. A increased the activity of p38 MAPK, a kinase involved in long-term depression and inhibition of p38 MAPK abolished the loss of dendritic spines. A-induced increase of p38 MAPK activity was prevented by APV but not by BAPTA, MK-801 or memantine treatment highlighting the role of glutamate binding to NMDARs but not Ca(2+) flux for synaptic degeneration by A. We further show that treatment with the G protein inhibitor pertussis toxin (PTX) did not prevent dendritic spine loss in the presence of A oligomers. Our data suggest that A induces the activation of p38 MAPK and subsequent synaptic loss through Ca(2+) flux- and G protein-independent mechanisms.