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J Neurosci. 1997 Sep 15;17(18):6850-63.

Heterogeneity of astrocyte resting membrane potentials and intercellular coupling revealed by whole-cell and gramicidin-perforated patch recordings from cultured neocortical and hippocampal slice astrocytes.

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  • 1Department of Neurological Surgery, University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle, Washington 98104, USA.


Astrocytes are thought to regulate the extracellular potassium concentration by mechanisms involving both voltage-dependent and transport-mediated ion fluxes combined with intercellular communication via gap junctions. Mechanisms regulating resting membrane potential (RMP) play a fundamental role in determining glial contribution to buffering of extracellular potassium and uptake of potentially toxic neurotransmitters. We have investigated the passive electrophysiological properties of cultured neocortical astrocytes and astrocytes recorded in hippocampal slices from 18-25 d postnatal rats. These experiments revealed a wide range of astrocyte RMPs that were independent of developmental factors, length of culturing, cellular morphology, the electrophysiological techniques used (whole-cell vs perforated recording), cell-specific expression of Na+/2HCO3- co-transporters, or voltage-dependent Na+ channels. Exposure of cultured astrocytes to differentiation-inducing factors (such as cAMP) or inhibition of proliferation (by serum deprivation) did not significantly influence RMP. Expression of ATP-sensitive potassium channels was absent in these glia; thus, K(ATP)-related mechanisms did not contribute to cell resting potential. In both cultured and slice astrocytes, spontaneous electrophysiological changes were commonly observed. These reversible events, which resulted in differential sensitivity to potassium channel blockers (cesium and barium) and sudden current-voltage profile changes, were attributable to dynamic changes in cell-to-cell coupling, as confirmed by recordings from isolated pairs of cells. We conclude that the heterogeneity of astrocytic RMP and intercellular coupling both in culture and in situ are intrinsic properties of glia that may contribute to transcellular transport of potassium. We propose a model in which spatial buffering may be facilitated by heterogeneous mechanisms controlling glial RMP in combination with dynamic changes in intercellular coupling.

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