Distinct types of astroglial cells in the hippocampus differ in gap junction coupling



Previous studies have shown that two subpopulations of cells with astrocytic properties coexist in the mouse hippocampus, which display distinct morphological and functional characteristics, specifically a nonoverlapping expression of either AMPA-type glutamate receptors (GluR cells) or glutamate transporters (GluT cells). Use of transgenic mice with hGFAP promoter-controlled EGFP expression and patch-clamp recordings allow reliable identification of the two cell types in hippocampal slices. Extending functional characterization, we report here the complete lack of gap junctional tracer coupling in GluR cells, while GluT cells are shown to be extensively coupled. This distinction is valid in immature as well as adult animals. Analysis of transgenic mice expressing β-Gal under regulatory elements of the Cx43 promoter revealed the absence of Cx43 in GluR cells. Experiments using gap junction blockers demonstrated that passive currents, displayed primarily by GluT cells, do not reflect intercellular coupling but are attributable to intrinsic membrane properties of individual cells. This study supports the notion that the two subpopulations of hGFAP-EGFP-positive cells represent distinct cell types with contrasting physiological properties. Since GluR cells do not participate in the astrocytic gap junctional network, their functional role must be different from spatial buffering of ions or signaling molecules, i.e., properties generally assigned to astrocytes. © 2004 Wiley-Liss, Inc.