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Neurochem Int. 2010 Feb;56(3):379-86. doi: 10.1016/j.neuint.2009.12.015. Epub 2009 Dec 29.

Use of NAD(P)H and flavoprotein autofluorescence transients to probe neuron and astrocyte responses to synaptic activation.

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Dept Neurosciences, University of New Mexico School of Medicine, Albuquerque, NM 87131, USA.


Synaptic stimulation in brain slices is accompanied by changes in tissue autofluorescence, which are a consequence of changes in tissue metabolism. Autofluorescence excited by ultraviolet light has been most extensively studied, and is due to reduced pyridine nucleotides (NADH and NADPH, collectively termed NAD(P)H). Stimulation generates a characteristic compound NAD(P)H response, comprising an initial fluorescence decrease and then an overshooting increase that slowly recovers to baseline levels. Evoked NAD(P)H transients are relatively easy to record, do not require the addition of exogenous indicators and have good signal-noise ratios. These characteristics make NAD(P)H imaging methods very useful for tracking the spread of neuronal activity in complex brain tissues, however the cellular basis of synaptically-evoked autofluorescence transients has been the subject of recent debate. Of particular importance is the question of whether signals are due primarily to changes in neuronal mitochondrial function, and/or whether astrocyte metabolism triggered by glutamate uptake may be a significant contributor to the overshooting NAD(P)H fluorescence increases. This mini-review addresses the subcellular origins of NAD(P)H autofluorescence and the evidence for mitochondrial and glycolytic contributions to compound transients. It is concluded that there is no direct evidence for a contribution to NAD(P)H signals from glycolysis in astrocytes following synaptic glutamate uptake. In contrast, multiple lines of evidence, including from complimentary flavoprotein autofluorescence signals, imply that mitochondrial NADH dynamics in neurons dominate compound evoked NAD(P)H transients. These signals are thus appropriate for studies of mitochondrial function and dysfunction in brain slices, in addition to providing robust maps of postsynaptic neuronal activation following physiological activation.

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