Genetic variants of the NMDA receptor influence cortical excitability and plasticity in humans

Francesco Mori, Michele Ribolsi, Hajime Kusayanagi, Alberto Siracusano, Vilma Mantovani, Elena Marasco, Giorgio Bernardi, Diego Centonze

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptors play crucial roles in glutamate-mediated synaptic transmission and plasticity and are involved in a variety of brain functions. Specific single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in the genes encoding NMDA receptor subunits have been associated with some neuropsychiatric disorders involving altered glutamate transmission, but how these polymorphisms impact on synaptic function in humans is unknown. Here, the role of NMDA receptors in the control of cortical excitability and plasticity was explored by comparing the response to single, paired, and repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulations of the motor cortex in 77 healthy subjects carrying specific allelic variants of the NR1 subunit gene (GRIN1 rs4880213 and rs6293) or of the NR2B subunit gene (GRIN2B rs7301328, rs3764028, and rs1805247). Our results showed that individuals homozygous for the T allele in the rs4880213 GRIN1 SNP had reduced intracortical inhibition, as expected for enhanced glutamatergic excitation in these subjects. Furthermore, individuals carrying the G allele in the rs1805247 GRIN2B SNP show greater intracortical facilitation and greater long-term potentiation-like cortical plasticity after intermittent θ-burst stimulation. Our results provide novel insights into the function of NMDA receptors in the human brain and might contribute to the clarification of the synaptic bases of severe neuropsychiatric disorders associated with defective glutamate transmission.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1637-1643
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Neurophysiology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2011


  • Glutamate
  • Synaptic plasticity
  • Transcranial magnetic stimulation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Neuroscience(all)


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