AMPA and kainate receptors are glutamate-gated ion channels whose function is known to be altered by a variety of plant oligosaccharide-binding proteins, or lectins, but the physiological relevance of this activity has been uncertain because no lectins with analogous allosteric modulatory effects have been identified in animals. We report here that members of the prototype galectin family, which are β-galactoside-binding lectins, exhibit subunit-specific allosteric modulation of desensitization of recombinant homomeric and heteromeric AMPA and kainate receptors. Galectin modulation of GluK2 kainate receptors was dependent upon complex oligosaccharide processing of N-glycosylation sites in the amino-terminal domain and downstream linker region. The sensitivity of GluA4 AMPA receptors to human galectin-1 could be enhanced by supplementation of culture media with uridine and N-acetylglucosamine (GlcNAc), precursors for the hexosamine pathway that supplies UDP-GlcNAc for synthesis of complex oligosaccharides. Neuronal kainate receptors in dorsal root ganglia were sensitive to galectin modulation, whereas AMPA receptors in cultured hippocampal neurons were insensitive, which could be a reflection of differential N-glycan processing or receptor subunit selectivity. Because glycan content of integral proteins can be modified dynamically, we postulate that physiological or pathological conditions in the CNS could arise in which galectins alter excitatory neurotransmission or neuronal excitability through their actions on AMPA or kainate receptors.
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