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Glutamate receptor activation can trigger electrical activity in human glioma cells


Correspondence: H. Kettenmann, as above. E-mail:


Cells from major types of gliomas, i.e. oligodendrogliomas and glioblastomas, are able to generate action potentials upon a current injection similar to neurons (Patt et al. (1996) Neuroscience, 71, 601–611; Labrakakis et al. (1997b) J. Neuropath. Exp. Neurol., 56, 243–254. Here, we report that activation of ionotropic glutamate receptors by the selective agonist, kainate, or by glutamate itself, depolarized the tumour cells in culture and living slices from tumour tissue, and can elicit volleys of action potentials, as recorded with the patch-clamp technique. Sixty-six percent of the glioblastoma cells, 44% of the astocytoma and 86% of the oligodendroglioma cells responded to glutamate and the specific agonist of AMPA/kainate receptors, kainate. The involvement of non-NMDA (N-methyl-d-aspartate) receptors is further supported by the observation that both kainate and glutamate currents were blocked by CNQX (6-cyano-7-nitroquinoxaline-2,3-dione). The receptor activation was accompanied by an increase in cytosolic Ca2+, as recorded with a fura-2 microfluorometric system. The Ca2+ elevation was mediated by the activation of Ca2+ channels due to membrane depolarization. The presence of voltage-gated Ca2+ channels was confirmed by patch-clamp experiments. Taken together, these findings imply that the electrophysiological properties of glioma cells are more reminiscent of those of neurons than of glial cells.