Glutamate and aspartate are endogenous excitatory amino acid neurotransmitters widely distributed in the mammalian central nervous system. Aspartate was shown to induce a large membrane current sensitive to N- methyI-D-aspartate (NMDA) and non-NMDA receptor antagonists in Purkinje cells from mice lacking functional NMDA receptors (NR1(-/-)). This response was accompanied by high permeability to calcium. In contrast, no current was induced by aspartate in hippocampal neurons and cerebellar granule cells from NR1-/- mice. Several other glutamate receptor agonists failed to evoke this response. Thus, in Purkinje cells, aspartate activates a distinct response capable of contributing to synaptic plasticity through calcium permeability.
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