Astrocytic control of synaptic NMDA receptors


  • C. J. Lee and G. Mannaioni contributed equally to this work. This paper has online supplemental material.

Corresponding author S. F. Traynelis: Department Pharmacology, 5062 Rollins Research Center, 1510 Clifton Road, Atlanta, GA 30322-3090, USA. Email:


Astrocytes express a wide range of G-protein coupled receptors that trigger release of intracellular Ca2+, including P2Y, bradykinin and protease activated receptors (PARs). By using the highly sensitive sniffer-patch technique, we demonstrate that the activation of P2Y receptors, bradykinin receptors and protease activated receptors all stimulate glutamate release from cultured or acutely dissociated astrocytes. Of these receptors, we have utilized PAR1 as a model system because of favourable pharmacological and molecular tools, its prominent expression in astrocytes and its high relevance to neuropathological processes. Astrocytic PAR1-mediated glutamate release in vitro is Ca2+ dependent and activates NMDA receptors on adjacent neurones in culture. Activation of astrocytic PAR1 in hippocampal slices induces an APV-sensitive inward current in CA1 neurones and causes APV-sensitive neuronal depolarization in CA1 neurones, consistent with release of glutamate from astrocytes. PAR1 activation enhances the NMDA receptor-mediated component of synaptic miniature EPSCs, evoked EPSCs and evoked EPSPs in a Mg2+-dependent manner, which may reflect spine head depolarization and consequent reduction of NMDA receptor Mg2+ block during subsequent synaptic currents. The release of glutamate from astrocytes following PAR1 activation may also lead to glutamate occupancy of some perisynaptic NMDA receptors, which pass current following relief of tonic Mg2+ block during synaptic depolarization. These results suggest that astrocytic G-protein coupled receptors that increase intracellular Ca2+ can tune synaptic NMDA receptor responses.