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Biophys J. 2001 Oct;81(4):1947-59.

The role of perisynaptic glial sheaths in glutamate spillover and extracellular Ca(2+) depletion.

Author information

  • Institute of Neurology, University College London, London WC1N 3BG, United Kingdom. d.rusakov@ion.ucl.ac.uk


Recent findings suggest that rapid activation of extrasynaptic receptors and transient depletion of extracellular Ca(2+) may represent an important component of glutamatergic synaptic transmission. These phenomena imply a previously unrecognized role for synaptic glial sheaths: to retard extracellular diffusion in the synaptic vicinity. The present study is an attempt to assess the extent and physiological implications of this retardation using a detailed compartmental model of the typical synaptic environment. The model allows reconstruction of a partial (asymmetric) glial sheath covered with transporter molecules, which gives a more realistic representation of the vicinity of central synapses. Simulations show to what extent, in conditions compatible with physiology, the occupancy of synaptic receptors and the depletion of Ca(2+) in the cleft increase with increased glial coverage. The impact of glial sheaths on synaptic transmission is shown to become greater with smaller synapses and with slower kinetics of perisynaptic ion transients. At a calyceal synapse, a profound temporal filtering of fast Ca(2+) influx is found, and similar phenomena are predicted to occur following simultaneous activation of multiple synapses in the neuropil. The results provide a quantitative guidance for interpretation of physiological experiments that address fast transients of neurotransmitters and small ions in the brain tissue.

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