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Front Comput Neurosci. 2012 Oct 1;6:70. doi: 10.3389/fncom.2012.00070. eCollection 2012.

A computational model to investigate astrocytic glutamate uptake influence on synaptic transmission and neuronal spiking.

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Department of Biomedical Engineering, University of Southern California Los Angeles, CA, USA.


Over the past decades, our view of astrocytes has switched from passive support cells to active processing elements in the brain. The current view is that astrocytes shape neuronal communication and also play an important role in many neurodegenerative diseases. Despite the growing awareness of the importance of astrocytes, the exact mechanisms underlying neuron-astrocyte communication and the physiological consequences of astrocytic-neuronal interactions remain largely unclear. In this work, we define a modeling framework that will permit to address unanswered questions regarding the role of astrocytes. Our computational model of a detailed glutamatergic synapse facilitates the analysis of neural system responses to various stimuli and conditions that are otherwise difficult to obtain experimentally, in particular the readouts at the sub-cellular level. In this paper, we extend a detailed glutamatergic synaptic model, to include astrocytic glutamate transporters. We demonstrate how these glial transporters, responsible for the majority of glutamate uptake, modulate synaptic transmission mediated by ionotropic AMPA and NMDA receptors at glutamatergic synapses. Furthermore, we investigate how these local signaling effects at the synaptic level are translated into varying spatio-temporal patterns of neuron firing. Paired pulse stimulation results reveal that the effect of astrocytic glutamate uptake is more apparent when the input inter-spike interval is sufficiently long to allow the receptors to recover from desensitization. These results suggest an important functional role of astrocytes in spike timing dependent processes and demand further investigation of the molecular basis of certain neurological diseases specifically related to alterations in astrocytic glutamate uptake, such as epilepsy.


astrocyte; computational model; glutamate uptake; glutamatergic synapse; neuron spiking

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