In the brainstem nucleus of the solitary tract (NTS), primary vagal afferent neurons express the transient receptor potential vanilloid subfamily member 1 (TRPV1) at their central terminals where it contributes to quantal forms of glutamate release. The endogenous membrane lipid anandamide (AEA) is a putative TRPV1 agonist in the brain, yet the extent to which AEA activation of TRPV1 has a neurophysiological consequence is not well established. We investigated the ability of AEA to activate TRPV1 in vagal afferent neurons in comparison to capsaicin (CAP). Using ratiometric calcium imaging and whole-cell patch clamp recordings we confirmed that AEA excitatory activity requires TRPV1, binds competitively at the CAP binding site, and has low relative affinity. While AEA-induced increases in peak cytosolic calcium were similar to CAP, AEA-induced membrane currents were significantly smaller. Removal of bath calcium increased the AEA current with no change in peak CAP currents revealing a calcium sensitive difference in specific ligand activation of TRPV1. Both CAP- and AEA-activated TRPV1 currents maintained identical reversal potentials, arguing against a major difference in ion selectivity to resolve the AEA differences in signaling. In contrast with CAP, AEA did not alter spontaneous glutamate release at NTS synapses. We conclude: (1) AEA activation of TRPV1 is markedly different from CAP and produces different magnitudes of calcium influx from whole-cell current; and (2) exogenous AEA does not alter spontaneous glutamate release onto NTS neurons. As such, AEA may convey modulatory changes to calcium-dependent processes, but does not directly facilitate glutamate release.
Keywords: autonomic reflexes; calcium; glutamate; permeability; quantal; spontaneous; vagus.