GluN2B subunit deletion reveals key role in acute and chronic ethanol sensitivity of glutamate synapses in bed nucleus of the stria terminalis.


The bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (BNST) is a critical region for alcohol/drug-induced negative affect and stress-induced reinstatement. NMDA receptor (NMDAR)-dependent plasticity, such as long-term potentiation (LTP), has been postulated to play key roles in alcohol and drug addiction; yet, to date, little is understood regarding the mechanisms underlying LTP of the BNST, or its regulation by ethanol. Acute and chronic exposure to ethanol modulates glutamate transmission via actions on NMDARs. Despite intense investigation, tests of subunit specificity of ethanol actions on NMDARs using pharmacological approaches have produced mixed results. Thus, we use a conditional GluN2B KO mouse line to assess both basal and ethanol-dependent function of this subunit at glutamate synapses in the BNST. Deletion of GluN2B eliminated LTP, as well as actions of ethanol on NMDAR function. Further, we show that chronic ethanol exposure enhances LTP formation in the BNST. Using KO-validated pharmacological approaches with Ro25-6981 and memantine, we provide evidence suggesting that chronic ethanol exposure enhances LTP in the BNST via paradoxical extrasynaptic NMDAR involvement. These findings demonstrate that GluN2B is a key point of regulation for ethanol's actions and suggest a unique role of extrasynaptic GluN2B-containing receptors in facilitating LTP.