State-dependent changes in astrocyte regulation of extrasynaptic NMDA receptor signalling in neurosecretory neurons

J Physiol. 2011 Aug 15;589(Pt 16):3929-41. doi: 10.1113/jphysiol.2011.207340. Epub 2011 Jun 20.


Despite the long-established presence of glutamate NMDA receptors at extrasynaptic sites (eNMDARs), their functional roles remain poorly understood. Factors influencing the concentration and time course of glutamate in the extrasynaptic space, such as the topography of the neuronal–glial microenvironment, as well as glial glutamate transporters, are expected to affect eNMDAR-mediated signalling strength. In this study, we used in vitro and in vivo electrophysiological recordings to assess the properties, functional relevance and modulation of a persistent excitatory current mediated by activation of eNMDARs in hypothalamic supraoptic nucleus (SON) neurons. We found that ambient glutamate of a non-synaptic origin activates eNMDARs to mediate a persistent excitatory current (termed tonic I(NMDA)), which tonically stimulates neuronal activity. Pharmacological blockade of GLT1 astrocyte glutamate transporters, as well as the gliotoxin α-aminodadipic acid, enhanced tonic I(NMDA) and neuronal activity, supporting an astrocyte regulation of tonic I(NMDA) strength. Dehydration, a physiological challenge known to increase SON firing activity and to induce neuroglial remodelling, including reduced neuronal ensheathment by astrocyte processes, resulted in blunted GLT1 efficacy, enhanced tonic I(NMDA) strength, and increased neuronal activity. Taken together, our studies support the view that glial modulation of tonic I(NMDA) activation contributes to regulation of SON neuronal activity, contributing in turn to neuronal homeostatic responses during a physiological challenge.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Astrocytes / metabolism
  • Astrocytes / physiology*
  • Female
  • Male
  • Neurons / metabolism
  • Neurosecretory Systems / cytology*
  • Neurosecretory Systems / physiology*
  • Organ Culture Techniques
  • Rats
  • Rats, Wistar
  • Receptors, N-Methyl-D-Aspartate / physiology*
  • Signal Transduction / physiology*
  • Supraoptic Nucleus / physiology
  • Synapses / physiology*
  • Synaptic Potentials / physiology


  • Receptors, N-Methyl-D-Aspartate