Glutamate receptors are concentrated in the postsynaptic complex of central synapses. This implies a highly organized and stable postsynaptic membrane with tightly anchored receptors. Recent reports of rapid AMPA receptor insertion and removal at synapses have challenged this view. We examined the stability of synaptic NMDA receptors on cultured hippocampal neurons using the open-channel blockers (+)-MK-801 and ketamine to tag synaptic NMDA receptors. NMDA receptor-mediated EPSCs showed an anomalous recovery following "irreversible" MK-801 block. The recovery could not be attributed to MK-801 unbinding or insertion of new receptors, suggesting that membrane receptors had moved laterally into the synapse. At least 65% of synaptic NMDA receptors were mobile. Our results indicate that NMDA receptors can move laterally between synaptic and extrasynaptic pools, providing evidence for a dynamic organization of synaptic NMDA receptors in the postsynaptic complex.
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