In rat brainstem slices, we investigated the possible role of metabotropic glutamate receptors in modulating the synaptic transmission within the medial vestibular nuclei, under basal and plasticity inducing conditions. We analysed the effect of the metabotropic glutamate receptor antagonist (R,S)-α-methyl-4-carboxyphenylglycine on the amplitude of the field potentials and latency of unitary potentials evoked in the ventral portion of the medial vestibular nuclei by primary vestibular afferent stimulation, and on the induction and maintenance of long-term potentiation, after high-frequency stimulation. Two effects were observed, consisting of a slight increase of the field potentials and reduction of unit latency during the drug infusion, and a further long-lasting development of these modifications after the drug wash-out. The long-term effect depended on N- methyl-D-aspartate receptor activation, as D,L-2-amino-5-phosphonopentanoic acid prevented its development. We suggest that (R,S)-α-methyl-4- carboxyphenylglycine enhances the vestibular responses and induces N-methyl- D-aspartate-dependent long-term potentiation by increasing glutamate release, through the block of presynaptic metabotropic glutamate receptors which actively inhibit it. The block of these receptors was indirectly supported by the fact that the agonist (1S,3R)-1-aminocyclopentane-1,3-dicarboxylic acid reduced the vestibular responses and blocked the induction of lung-term potentiation by high-frequency stimulation. The simultaneous block of metabotropic glutamate receptors facilitating synaptic plasticity, impedes the full expression of the long-term effect throughout the (R,S)-α-methyl- 4-carboxyphenylglycine infusion. The involvement of such a facilitatory mechanism in the potentiation is supported by its reversible reduction following a second (R,S)-α-methyl-4-carboxyphenylglycine infusion. The drug also reduced the expression of potentiation induced by high-frequency stimulation. Conversely the electrical long-term potentiation was still induced, but it was occluded by the previous drug potentiation. We conclude that metabotropic glutamate receptors play a dual functional role in the medial vestibular nuclei, consisting in the inhibition of glutamate release under basal conditions, and the facilitation of N-methyl-D-aspartate- dependent plasticity phenomena.
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