Ca2+ influx through N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA)-type glutamate receptors plays a pivotal role in synaptic plasticity during brain development as well as in mature brain. Cyclic AMP-dependent protein kinase (PKA) and members of the protein kinase C (PKC) family are also essential for various forms of synaptic plasticity and regulate the activity of different ion channels including NMDA and non-NMDA receptors. We now demonstrate that PKA and various PKC isoforms phosphorylate the NMDA receptor in vitro. The stoichiometry of [32P]phosphate incorporation per [3H]MK-801 binding site is greater than 1 for both PKA and PKC. Double immunoprecipitation experiments show that all three NMDA receptor subunits that are prevalent in the cortical structures, NR1, NR2A, and NR2B, are substrates for PKA as well as PKC. Two-dimensional phosphopeptide mapping reveals that the major phosphorylation sites for PKA and PKC differ for all three subunits. We provide evidence that some if not most of these sites are phosphorylated in the central nervous system of rats in viva. The results presented in this article together with earlier electrophysiological experiments demonstrating that PKA and PKC activation increases the activity of NMDA receptors indicate that NMDA receptor potentiation can be mediated by direct phosphorylation by PKA and PKC. Collectively, these results strongly suggest that NMDA receptor functions such as control of neuronal development or expression of synaptic plasticity are modulated by PKA- and PKC-mediated phosphorylation of NMDA receptors.
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