Introduction: Recently, a novel N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptor subunit, NR3A, has been discovered in the brain. This subunit decreases NMDA receptor activity by modulating the calcium permeability of the receptor channel and current density in cortical cells. Because the NR3A is expressed in the human prefrontal cortex, we hypothesized that genetic variations of the NR3A subunit modulate prefrontal activation. Methods: Electromagnetic activity during selective attention (auditory oddball task with target processing) was measured in 281 healthy subjects. Genotyping of a missense variation (rs10989591, Val362Met) of the NR3A gene was performed. Results: Individuals carrying Val/Val genotype showed significantly reduced frontal P300 amplitudes compared with Met/Met subjects. Subsequent low-resolution electromagnetic source analysis revealed that this group difference is likely caused by reduced activation in the inferior frontal gyrus. Conclusions: It was shown for the first time that the genetic constitution of the subunit composition of NMDA receptor regulation might be relevant for prefrontal information processing in humans. The results underline the pivotal role of glutamate in frontal lobe function and indicate that the NR3A subunit could be a plausible candidate gene for diseases with prefrontal dysfunctions.

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Author notes

*Jürgen Gallinat and Thomas Götz contributed equally to this work.