Autocrine, paracrine and necrotic NMDA receptor signalling in mouse pancreatic neuroendocrine tumour cells.

14 Feb 2018

N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor (NMDAR) activation is implicated in the malignant progression of many cancer types, as previously shown by the growth-inhibitory effects of NMDAR antagonists. NMDAR-mediated calcium influx and its downstream signalling depend critically, however, on the dynamics of membrane potential and ambient glutamate concentration, which are poorly characterised in cancer cells. Here, we have used low-noise whole-cell patch-clamp recording to investigate the electrophysiology of glutamate signalling in pancreatic neuroendocrine tumour (PanNET) cells derived from a genetically-engineered mouse model (GEMM) of PanNET, in which NMDAR signalling is known to promote cancer progression. Activating NMDARs caused excitation and intracellular calcium elevation, and intracellular perfusion with physiological levels of glutamate led to VGLUT-dependent autocrine NMDAR activation. Necrotic cells, which are often present in rapidly-growing tumours, were shown to release endogenous cytoplasmic glutamate, and necrosis induced by mechanical rupture of the plasma membrane produced intense NMDAR activation in nearby cells. Computational modelling, based on these results, predicts that NMDARs in cancer cells can be strongly activated in the tumour microenvironment by both autocrine glutamate release and necrosis.