HINT1 protein cooperates with cannabinoid 1 receptor to negatively regulate glutamate NMDA receptor activity

G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs) are the targets of a large number of drugs currently in therapeutic use. Likewise, the glutamate ionotropic N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor (NMDAR) has been implicated in certain neurological disorders, such as neurodegeration, neuropathic pain and mood disorders, as well as psychosis and schizophrenia. Thus, there is now an important need to characterize the interactions between GPCRs and NMDARs. Indeed, these interactions can produce distinct effects, and whereas the activation of Mu-opioid receptor (MOR) increases the calcium fluxes associated to NMDARs, that of type 1 cannabinoid receptor (CNR1) antagonizes their permeation. Notably, a series of proteins interact with these receptors affecting their responses and interactions, and then emerge as novel therapeutic targets for the aforementioned pathologies.

We found that in the presence of GPCRs, the HINT1 protein influences the activity of NMDARs, whereby NMDAR activation was enhanced in CNR1+/+/HINT1-/- cortical neurons and the cannabinoid agonist WIN55,212-2 provided these cells with no protection against a NMDA insult. NMDAR activity was normalized in these cells by the lentiviral expression of HINT1, which also restored the neuroprotection mediated by cannabinoids. NMDAR activity was also enhanced in CNR1-/-/HINT1+/+ neurons, although this activity was dampened by the expression of GPCRs like the MOR, CNR1 or serotonin 1A (5HT1AR).

The HINT1 protein plays an essential role in the GPCR-NMDAR connection. In the absence of receptor activation, GPCRs collaborate with HINT1 proteins to negatively control NMDAR activity. When activated, most GPCRs release the control of HINT1 and NMDAR responsiveness is enhanced. However, cannabinoids that act through CNR1 maintain the negative control of HINT1 on NMDAR function and their protection against glutamate excitotoxic insult persists.

Keywords: HINT1 protein; Cannabinoid receptor; NMDA receptor; Cortical neuron cultures; Excitotoxicity; Neuroprotection

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