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PLoS One. 2008 Jun 25;3(6):e2525. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0002525.

Cortical layer 1 and layer 2/3 astrocytes exhibit distinct calcium dynamics in vivo.

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Hirase Research Unit, Neuronal Circuit and Mechanisms Research Group, RIKEN Brain Science Institute, Wako, Japan.


Cumulative evidence supports bidirectional interactions between astrocytes and neurons, suggesting glial involvement of neuronal information processing in the brain. Cytosolic calcium (Ca(2+)) concentration is important for astrocytes as Ca(2+) surges co-occur with gliotransmission and neurotransmitter reception. Cerebral cortex is organized in layers which are characterized by distinct cytoarchitecture. We asked if astrocyte-dominant layer 1 (L1) of the somatosensory cortex was different from layer 2/3 (L2/3) in spontaneous astrocytic Ca(2+) activity and if it was influenced by background neural activity. Using a two-photon laser scanning microscope, we compared spontaneous Ca(2+) activity of astrocytic somata and processes in L1 and L2/3 of anesthetized mature rat somatosensory cortex. We also assessed the contribution of background neural activity to the spontaneous astrocytic Ca(2+) dynamics by investigating two distinct EEG states ("synchronized" vs. "de-synchronized" states). We found that astrocytes in L1 had nearly twice higher Ca(2+) activity than L2/3. Furthermore, Ca(2+) fluctuations of processes within an astrocyte were independent in L1 while those in L2/3 were synchronous. Pharmacological blockades of metabotropic receptors for glutamate, ATP, and acetylcholine, as well as suppression of action potentials did not have a significant effect on the spontaneous somatic Ca(2+) activity. These results suggest that spontaneous astrocytic Ca(2+) surges occurred in large part intrinsically, rather than neural activity-driven. Our findings propose a new functional segregation of layer 1 and 2/3 that is defined by autonomous astrocytic activity.

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