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Accumulation of Extracellular Glutamate by Inhibition of Its Uptake Is Not Sufficient for Inducing Neuronal Damage: An In Vivo Microdialysis Study


Address correspondence and reprints requests to Dr. L. Massieu at Departamento de Neurociencias, Instituto de Fisiología Celular, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, AP 70-253, 04510-México D.F., México.


Abstract: It is well documented that neurons exposed to high concentrations of excitatory amino acids, such as glutamate and aspartate, degenerate and die. The clearance of these amino acids from the synaptic cleft depends mainly on their transport by high-affinity sodium-dependent carriers. Using microdialysis in vivo and HPLC analysis, we have studied the effect of the administration of inhibitors of the glutamate transporter (l-trans-pyrrolidine-2,4-dicarboxylate and dihydrokainate) on the extracellular concentration of endogenous amino acids in the rat striatum. In addition, we have analyzed whether the changes observed in the concentration of glutamate and aspartate were injurious to striatal cells. Neuronal damage was assessed by biochemical determination of choline acetyltransferase and glutamate decarboxylase activities, 7 days after the microdialysis procedure. In other experiments, pyrrolidine dicarboxylate and dihydrokainate, as well as two other inhibitors of the glutamate carrier, dl-threo-β-hydroxyaspartate and l-aspartate-β-hydroxamate, were microinjected into the striatum, and neuronal damage was assessed, both biochemically and histologically, 7 or 14 days after the injection. Dihydrokainate and pyrrolidine dicarboxylate produced a similar remarkable increase in the concentration of extracellular aspartate and glutamate. However, the former induced also notable elevations in the concentration of other amino acids. Clear neuronal damage was observed only after dihydrokainate administration, which was partially prevented by intraperitoneal injection of (+)-5-methyl-10,11-dihydro-5H-dibenzo[a,d]cyclohepten-5,10-imine maleate or by intrastriatal coinjection of 2,3-dihydroxy-6-nitro-7-sulfamoylbenzo(f)quinoxaline. No cell damage was observed with the other three glutamate carrier inhibitors used. It is concluded that an increased extracellular glutamate level in vivo due to dysfunction of its transporter is not sufficient for inducing neuronal damage. The neurotoxic effects of dihydrokainate could be explained by direct activation of glutamate postsynaptic receptors, an effect not shared by the other inhibitors used.