Excitatory amino acid (EAA) receptors are an important component of neocortical circuitry as a result of their role as the principal mediators of excitatory synaptic activity, as well as their involvement in use-dependent modifications of synaptic efficacy, excitotoxicity and cell death. The diversity in the effects generated by EAA-receptor activation can be attributed to multiple receptor subtypes, each of which is composed of multimeric assemblies of functionally distinct receptor subunits. The use of subunit-specific antibodies and molecular probes now makes it feasible to localize individual receptor subunits anatomically with a high level of cellular and synaptic resolution. Initial studies of the distribution of immunocytochemically localized EAA-receptor subunits suggest that particular subunit combinations exhibit a differential cellular, laminar and regional distribution in the neocortex. While such patterns might indicate that the functional heterogeneity of EAA-receptor-linked circuits, and the cell types in which they operate, are based partly on differential subunit parcellation, a definitive integration of these anatomical details into current schemes of cortical circuitry and organization awaits many further studies. Ideally, such studies should link a high level of molecular precision regarding subunit localization with synaptic details of identified connections and neuro-chemical features of neocortical cells.
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