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Glycine triggers a non-ionotropic activity of GluN2A-containing NMDA receptors to confer neuroprotection
Ionotropic activation of NMDA receptors (NMDARs) requires agonist glutamate and co-agonist glycine. Here we show that glycine enhances the activation of cell survival-promoting kinase Akt in cultured cortical neurons in which both the channel activity of NMDARs and the glycine receptors are pre-inhibited. The effect of glycine is reduced by shRNA-mediated knockdown of GluN2A subunit-containing NMDARs (GluN2ARs), suggesting that a non-ionotropic activity of GluN2ARs mediates glycine-induced Akt activation. In support of this finding, glycine enhances Akt activation in HEK293 cells over-expressing GluN2ARs. The effect of glycine on Akt activation is sensitive to the antagonist of glycine-GluN1 binding site. As a functional consequence, glycine protects against excitotoxicity-induced neuronal death through the non-ionotropic activity of GluN2ARs and the neuroprotective effect is attenuated by Akt inhibition. Thus, this study reveals an unexpected role of glycine in eliciting a non-ionotropic activity of GluN2ARs to confer neuroprotection via Akt activation.