Astrocyte-Mediated Neuronal Synchronization Properties Revealed by False Gliotransmitter Release

Pirttimaki, Tiina M, Sims, Robert orcid iconORCID: 0000-0003-1373-7514, Saunders, Gregory, Antonio, Serena A, Codadu, Neela Krushna and Parri, H Rheinallt (2017) Astrocyte-Mediated Neuronal Synchronization Properties Revealed by False Gliotransmitter Release. The Journal of Neuroscience, 37 (41). pp. 9859-9870. ISSN 0270-6474

[thumbnail of Version of Record]
PDF (Version of Record) - Published Version
Available under License Creative Commons Attribution.


Official URL:


Astrocytes spontaneously release glutamate (Glut) as a gliotransmitter (GT), resulting in the generation of extrasynaptic NMDAR-mediated slow inward currents (SICs) in neighboring neurons, which can increase local neuronal excitability. However, there is a deficit in our knowledge of the factors that control spontaneous astrocyte GT release and the extent of its influence. We found that, in rat brain slices, increasing the supply of the physiological transmitter Glut increased the frequency and signaling charge of SICs over an extended period. This phenomenon was replicated by exogenous preexposure to the amino acid D-aspartate (D-Asp). Using D-Asp as a "false" GT, we determined the extent of local neuron excitation by GT release in ventrobasal thalamus, CA1 hippocampus, and somatosensory cortex. By analyzing synchronized neuronal NMDAR-mediated excitation, we found that the properties of the excitation were conserved in different brain areas. In the three areas, astrocyte-derived GT release synchronized groups of neurons at distances of >;200 μm. Individual neurons participated in more than one synchronized population, indicating that individual neurons can be excited by more than one astrocyte and that individual astrocytes may determine a neuron's synchronized network. The results confirm that astrocytes can act as excitatory nodes that can influence neurons over a significant range in a number of brain regions. Our findings further suggest that chronic elevation of ambient Glut levels can lead to increased GT Glut release, which may be relevant in some pathological states. Astrocytes spontaneously release glutamate (Glut) and other gliotransmitters (GTs) that can modify neuronal activity. Exposing brain slices to Glut and D-aspartate (D-Asp) before recording resulted in an increase in frequency of GT-mediated astrocyte-neuron signaling. Using D-Asp, it was possible to investigate the effects of specific GT release at neuronal NMDARs. Calcium imaging showed synchronized activity in groups of neurons in cortex, hippocampus, and thalamus. The size of these populations was similar in all areas and some neurons were involved in more than one synchronous group. The findings show that GT release is supply dependent and that the properties of the signaling and activated networks are largely conserved between different brain areas.

Repository Staff Only: item control page