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Nat Neurosci. 2016 Dec;19(12):1619-1627. doi: 10.1038/nn.4428. Epub 2016 Oct 24.

Astrocytes mediate neurovascular signaling to capillary pericytes but not to arterioles.

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Department of Neuroscience, Physiology &Pharmacology, University College London, London, UK.
Institute of Neurology, University College London, London, UK.


Active neurons increase their energy supply by dilating nearby arterioles and capillaries. This neurovascular coupling underlies blood oxygen level-dependent functional imaging signals, but its mechanism is controversial. Canonically, neurons release glutamate to activate metabotropic glutamate receptor 5 (mGluR5) on astrocytes, evoking Ca2+ release from internal stores, activating phospholipase A2 and generating vasodilatory arachidonic acid derivatives. However, adult astrocytes lack mGluR5, and knockout of the inositol 1,4,5-trisphosphate receptors that release Ca2+ from stores does not affect neurovascular coupling. We now show that buffering astrocyte Ca2+ inhibits neuronally evoked capillary dilation, that astrocyte [Ca2+]i is raised not by release from stores but by entry through ATP-gated channels, and that Ca2+ generates arachidonic acid via phospholipase D2 and diacylglycerol lipase rather than phospholipase A2. In contrast, dilation of arterioles depends on NMDA receptor activation and Ca2+-dependent NO generation by interneurons. These results reveal that different signaling cascades regulate cerebral blood flow at the capillary and arteriole levels.

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