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J Physiol. 1996 Jul 15;494 ( Pt 2):465-77.

Modulation of excitatory synaptic transmission by low concentrations of glutamate in cultured rat hippocampal neurons.

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  • 1Department of Psychiatry, Washington University School of Medicine, St Louis, MO 63110, USA.


1. The effects of low micromolar concentrations of glutamate on fast excitatory synaptic responses were studied in microcultures of postnatal rat hippocampal neurons using whole-cell patch clamp recordings. 2. Glutamate depressed the alpha-amino-3-hydroxy-5-methyl-4-isoxazolepropionic acid (AMPA) receptor component of excitatory autaptic currents (EACs) with an EC50 of 3.8 microM. 3. Both pre- and postsynaptic effects contributed to the depression of AMPA receptor-mediated EACs. Cyclothiazide and wheatgerm agglutinin, agents which inhibit AMPA receptor desensitization, partially reversed the depression produced by glutamate, as did pertussis toxin, an agent that blocks presynaptic inhibition mediated by metabotropic glutamate receptors. 4. In neurons in which both the AMPA and N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptor components of EACs were examined, low concentrations of glutamate depressed the NMDA component of EACs to a greater extent. The EC50 for inhibiting the NMDA component was 1.3 microM. 5. Calcium-dependent desensitization of postsynaptic NMDA receptors contributed to the depression of NMDA receptor-mediated synaptic responses. Both depolarization of postsynaptic neurons to +70 mV to decrease Ca2+ influx via NMDA channels and inclusion of high concentrations of a calcium chelator in recording pipettes decreased the depression of NMDA receptor-mediated EACs. 6. Threo-3-hydroxy-aspartate (THA), an inhibitor of glutamate transport, depressed EACs by about 10% and increased the degree of depression produced by 2.5 microM glutamate, suggesting that glutamate transport in microcultures helps to control ambient glutamate levels. 7. Because the normal extracellular concentration of glutamate is about 1 microM, these results suggest that the ambient glutamate level is an important determinant of synaptic efficacy. Relatively small changes in extracellular glutamate can alter fast excitatory synaptic transmission by both presynaptic and postsynaptic mechanisms.

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