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J Physiol. 2012 May 1;590(Pt 10):2317-31. doi: 10.1113/jphysiol.2011.226605. Epub 2012 Mar 12.

Activation of glutamate transport evokes rapid glutamine release from perisynaptic astrocytes.

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  • 1Department of Pharmacology, Tennis Court Road, Cambridge CB2 1PD, UK.


Stimulation of astrocytes by neuronal activity and the subsequent release of neuromodulators is thought to be an important regulator of synaptic communication. In this study we show that astrocytes juxtaposed to the glutamatergic calyx of Held synapse in the rat medial nucleus of the trapezoid body (MNTB) are stimulated by the activation of glutamate transporters and consequently release glutamine on a very rapid timescale. MNTB principal neurones express electrogenic system A glutamine transporters, and were exploited as glutamine sensors in this study. By simultaneous whole-cell voltage clamping astrocytes and neighbouring MNTB neurones in brainstem slices, we show that application of the excitatory amino acid transporter (EAAT) substrate d-aspartate stimulates astrocytes to rapidly release glutamine, which is detected by nearby MNTB neurones. This release is significantly reduced by the toxins L-methionine sulfoximine and fluoroacetate, which reduce glutamine concentrations specifically in glial cells. Similarly, glutamine release was also inhibited by localised inactivation of EAATs in individual astrocytes, using internal DL-threo-β-benzyloxyaspartic acid (TBOA) or dissipating the driving force by modifying the patch-pipette solution. These results demonstrate that astrocytes adjacent to glutamatergic synapses can release glutamine in a temporally precise, controlled manner in response to glial glutamate transporter activation. Since glutamine can be used by neurones as a precursor for glutamate and GABA synthesis, this represents a potential feedback mechanism by which astrocytes can respond to synaptic activation and react in a way that sustains or enhances further communication. This would therefore represent an additional manifestation of the tripartite relationship between synapses and astrocytes.

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