Glutamate can activate NMDA receptor (NMDAR) and subsequently induces excitotoxic neuron loss. However, roles of NMDARs in the blood-brain barrier (BBB) are little known. This study used a mouse cerebrovascular endothelial cell (MCEC) model to evaluate the effects of NMDAR activation on maintenance of the BBB and its possible mechanisms. Analysis of confocal microscopy revealed expressions of NMDAR subunits, GluN1 and GLUN2B, in MCECs. An immunoblot assay further showed the existence of GluN1 in plasma membranes of MCECs. In brain tissues, a confocal microscopic analysis demonstrated co-localization of GluN1 and factor VIII, a biomarker of MCECs. In addition, GluN1 mRNA was detected in MCECs and the brain. Functional assays showed that exposure of MCECs to NMDA increased calcium influx. Separately, NMDA suppressed transendothelial electrical resistance values, levels of occludin, and occludin tight junctions. As to the mechanism, NMDA stimulated sequential phosphorylations of extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK)1/2 and mitogen-activated ERK (MEK)1. Interestingly, amounts of matrix metalloproteinase (MMP)2 and MMP9 in MCECs were augmented by NMDA. The NMDA-induced alterations in ERK1/2 phosphorylation and occludin levels were reversed by pretreatment with PD98059, a MEK inhibitor, and MK-801, a NMDAR antagonist, respectively. Therefore, this study shows the functional presence of NMDARs in MCECs, and NMDAR activation can disrupt the MCEC-constructed tight junction barrier via activation of the MEK1/2-ERK1/2 signaling pathway and upregulation of MMP2/9 expressions.
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