Network activity in the brain is associated with a transient increase in extracellular K(+) concentration. The excess K(+) is removed from the extracellular space by mechanisms proposed to involve Kir4.1-mediated spatial buffering, the Na(+)/K(+)/2Cl(-) cotransporter 1 (NKCC1), and/or Na(+)/K(+)-ATPase activity. Their individual contribution to [K(+)]o management has been of extended controversy. This study aimed, by several complementary approaches, to delineate the transport characteristics of Kir4.1, NKCC1, and Na(+)/K(+)-ATPase and to resolve their involvement in clearance of extracellular K(+) transients. Primary cultures of rat astrocytes displayed robust NKCC1 activity with [K(+)]o increases above basal levels. Increased [K(+)]o produced NKCC1-mediated swelling of cultured astrocytes and NKCC1 could thereby potentially act as a mechanism of K(+) clearance while concomitantly mediate the associated shrinkage of the extracellular space. In rat hippocampal slices, inhibition of NKCC1 failed to affect the rate of K(+) removal from the extracellular space while Kir4.1 enacted its spatial buffering only during a local [K(+)]o increase. In contrast, inhibition of the different isoforms of Na(+)/K(+)-ATPase reduced post-stimulus clearance of K(+) transients. The astrocyte-characteristic α2β2 subunit composition of Na(+)/K(+)-ATPase, when expressed in Xenopus oocytes, displayed a K(+) affinity and voltage-sensitivity that would render this subunit composition specifically geared for controlling [K(+)]o during neuronal activity. In rat hippocampal slices, simultaneous measurements of the extracellular space volume revealed that neither Kir4.1, NKCC1, nor Na(+)/K(+)-ATPase accounted for the stimulus-induced shrinkage of the extracellular space. Thus, NKCC1 plays no role in activity-induced extracellular K(+) recovery in native hippocampal tissue while Kir4.1 and Na(+)/K(+)-ATPase serve temporally distinct roles.
Keywords: cell volume changes in mammalian brain; extracellular ion homeostasis; ion transport.
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