L-Homocysteic acid (HCA), an endogenous excitatory amino acid in the mammalian CNS, potently activates N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptors in hippocampal neurons. However, the responses to HCA in Purkinje cells, which lack functional NMDA receptors, have been largely unexplored: HCA may activate conventional non-NMDA receptors by its mixed agonistic action on both NMDA and non-NMDA receptors, or it may activate a novel non-NMDA receptor that has high affinity for HCA. To test these possibilities, we compared the responses to HCA in cultured Purkinje cells with those in hippocampal neurons by using the whole cell patch-clamp technique. To clearly isolate HCA responses mediated by non-NMDA receptors, we complemented pharmacological methods by using neurons from mutant mice (NR(-/-)) that lack functional NMDA receptors. A moderate dose of HCA (100 μM) induced substantial responses in Purkinje cells. These responses were blocked by non- NMDA receptor antagonists but were insensitive to NMDA receptor antagonists. HCA also activated responses mediated by non-NMDA receptors in both wild-type and NR1(-/-) hippocampal neurons. HCA responses in Purkinje cells had a pharmacological profile (EC50 and Hill coefficient) very similar to that of non-NMDA receptor components of HCA responses in hippocampal neurons. Moreover, the amplitude of the non-NMDA receptor component of HCA responses was directly correlated with that of α-amino-3-hydroxy-5-methyl-4- isoxazolepropionic acid (AMPA)- and kainate-induced responses in both types of neurons. Finally, in both types of neurons, HCA currents mediated by non- NMDA receptors were potently blocked by the AMPA receptor antagonist GYKI52466. These findings indicate that HCA-activated AMPA receptors in Purkinje cells are similar to those in hippocampal neurons and that there is no distinct HCA-preferring receptor in Purkinje cells. We also found that in hippocampal neurons, the EC50s of HCA for non-NMDA receptors and for NMDA receptors were more similar than originally reported; this finding indicates that HCA is similar to other mixed agonists, such as glutamate. HCA responses may appear to be selective at NMDA receptors in cells that express these receptors, such as hippocampal neurons; in cells that express few functional NMDA receptors, such as Purkinje cells, HCA may appear to be selective at non-NMDA receptors.
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