Initial models of AMPA receptor assembly postulated the unrestricted stochastic association of individual subunits. The low Ca2+ permeability and nonrectified current-voltage relationship of most native AMPA receptors were ascribed to dominant effects of the glutamate receptor 2 (GluR2) subunit. A recent model, however, proposes instead the preferred assembly of GluR1 and GluR2 subunits into tetrameric complexes as pairs of identical heteromeric dimers. To compare unrestricted versus selective models of GluR1 and GluR2 assembly, these subunits, in both flip and flop isoforms, were expressed in varying ratios in human embryonic kidney 293 cells. Coexpression of pairs of wild-type subunits produced expression of a predominance of heteromeric over homomeric receptors. Only a single functional type of heteromeric receptor was observed, indicating a pattern of apparent dominance not only of GluR2 for ion selectivity, but also of the flip isoform for receptor desensitization. Expression of wild-type GluR1 flip, however, with a mutant form of the same subunit carrying an arginine residue at the glutamine/arginine site (GluR1R flip) demonstrated a lack of dominance of GluR1R in determination of ion selectivity, whereas expression of GluR1R flip with GluR1 flop reproduced the pattern of apparent complete dominance. Together, the data support the selective expression of heteromeric receptors and are compatible with an equilibrium model of assembly of tetramers as pairs of identical heteromeric dimers. Expression of co-assemblies of the flip and flop isoforms, like that of the GluR1 and GluR2 subunits, is strongly favored over that of homomeric assemblies.
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