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Keywords:

  • astrocytes;
  • GABA;
  • glutamate;
  • microdialysis;
  • neurones;
  • volume-transmission

Abstract

Brain microdialysis has become a frequently used method to study the extracellular concentrations of neurotransmitters in specific areas of the brain. For years, and this is still the case today, dialysate concentrations and hence extracellular concentrations of neurotransmitters have been interpreted as a direct index of the neuronal release of these specific neurotransmitter systems. Although this seems to be the case for neurotransmitters such as dopamine, serotonin and acetylcholine, the extracellular concentrations of glutamate and GABA do not provide a reliable index of their synaptic exocytotic release. However, many microdialysis studies show changes in extracellular concentrations of glutamate and GABA under specific pharmacological and behavioural stimuli that could be interpreted as a consequence of the activation of specific neurochemical circuits. Despite this, we still do not know the origin and physiological significance of these changes of glutamate and GABA in the extracellular space. Here we propose that the changes in dialysate concentrations of these two neurotransmitters found under specific treatments could be an expression of the activity of the neurone–astrocyte unit in specific circuits of the brain. It is further proposed that dialysate changes of glutamate and GABA could be used as an index of volume transmission mediated actions of these two neurotransmitters in the brain. This hypothesis is based firstly on the assumption that the activity of neurones is functionally linked to the activity of astrocytes, which can release glutamate and GABA to the extracellular space; secondly, on the existence of extrasynaptic glutamate and GABA receptors with functional properties different from those of GABA receptors located at the synapse; and thirdly, on the experimental evidence reporting specific electrophysiological and neurochemical effects of glutamate and GABA when their levels are increased in the extracellular space. According to this concept, glutamate and GABA, once released into the extracellular compartment, could diffuse and have long-lasting effects modulating glutamatergic and/or GABAergic neurone-astrocytic networks and their interactions with other neurotransmitter neurone networks in the same areas of the brain.