Do you take a list to the grocery store or do you remember all the items you need? It all depends on proteins in your brain called NMDA (N-methyl-d-aspartate) receptors, which allow your neurons to communicate with each other.
Jon W. Johnson, University of Pittsburgh associate professor of neuroscience, Anqi Qian, of Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar, have discovered how different types of NMDA receptors perform varied functions.
Communication between cells in the brain depends on specialized molecular receptors that conduct charged particles, or ions, between the outside and inside of cells. Ions also modify how receptors work. In their study, Johnson and Qian found the effects of ions vary between different types of receptor molecules. They used computer modeling to show that variation in how ions interact with receptors combined with variation in the structure of receptors is responsible for specialization of receptor function.
NR1/2D receptors are believed to play important roles in the brain, including the process of long-term depression and disease. A better understanding of how NMDA receptors work could lead to better treatments for schizophrenia, depression and Alzheimer’s disease.
The brain is like an electrical circuit board but it is very complicated to figure out how it all functions together. Memories are formed by strengthening the connections between brain cells, known as synapses. Specifically, memory requires the coordinated activation of many types of receptors at synapses.