NMDA receptors (NMDARs) control bidirectional synaptic plasticity by regulating postsynaptic AMPA receptors (AMPARs). Here we show that NMDAR activation can have differential effects on AMPAR trafficking, depending on the subunit composition of NMDARs. In mature cultured neurons, NR2A-NMDARs promote, whereas NR2B-NMDARs inhibit, the surface expression of GluR1, primarily by regulating its surface insertion. In mature neurons, NR2B is coupled to inhibition rather than activation of the Ras-ERK pathway, which drives surface delivery of GluR1. Moreover, the synaptic Ras GTPase activating protein (GAP) SynGAP is selectively associated with NR2B-NMDARs in brain and is required for inhibition of NMDAR-dependent ERK activation. Preferential coupling of NR2B to SynGAP could explain the subtype-specific function of NR2B-NMDARs in inhibition of Ras-ERK, removal of synaptic AMPARs, and weakening of synaptic transmission.
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