Lactate promotes plasticity gene expression by potentiating NMDA signaling in neurons
L-lactate is a product of aerobic glycolysis that can be used by neurons as an energy substrate. Here we report that in neurons L-lactate stimulates the expression of synaptic plasticity-related genes such as Arc, c-Fos, and Zif268 through a mechanism involving NMDA receptor activity and its downstream signaling cascade Erk1/2. L-lactate potentiates NMDA receptor-mediated currents and the ensuing increase in intracellular calcium. In parallel to this, L-lactate increases intracellular levels of NADH, thereby modulating the redox state of neurons. NADH mimics all of the effects of L-lactate on NMDA signaling, pointing to NADH increase as a primary mediator of L-lactate effects. The induction of plasticity genes is observed both in mouse primary neurons in culture and in vivo in the mouse sensory-motor cortex. These results provide insights for the understanding of the molecular mechanisms underlying the critical role of astrocyte-derived L-lactate in long-term memory and long-term potentiation in vivo. This set of data reveals a previously unidentified action of L-lactate as a signaling molecule for neuronal plasticity.