Discrete cellular and subcellular localization of glutamine synthetase and the glutamate transporter GLAST in the rat vestibular end organ

Neuroscience. 1997 Aug;79(4):1137-44. doi: 10.1016/s0306-4522(97)00025-0.


Glial cells play an important role in the removal and metabolism of synaptically released glutamate in the central nervous system (CNS). It is not clear how glutamate is handled at peripheral glutamate synapses, which are not associated with glia. Glutamate is a likely transmitter in the synapse between the hair cells and afferent dendrites of the vestibular end organ. Immunocytochemistry was performed to investigate the distribution at this site of the high affinity glutamate transporter GLAST and glutamate metabolizing enzyme glutamine synthetase. Confocal microscopy revealed that GLAST and glutamine synthetase were co-localized in supporting cells apposed to the immunonegative hair cells. Postembedding immunoelectron microscopy revealed that GLAST was heterogeneously distributed along the plasma membranes of the supporting cells, with higher concentrations basally (at the level of the afferent synapses) than apically. Both immunoreactivities were also present in non-neuronal cells in the vestibular ganglion. The present findings suggest that glutamate released at the afferent synapse of vestibular hair cells may be taken up by adjacent supporting cells and converted into glutamine. Thus, at this peripheral synapse, the supporting cells may carry out functions similar to those of glial cells in the CNS.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • ATP-Binding Cassette Transporters / physiology*
  • ATP-Binding Cassette Transporters / ultrastructure*
  • Amino Acid Transport System X-AG
  • Animals
  • Glutamate-Ammonia Ligase / ultrastructure*
  • Hair Cells, Auditory / ultrastructure*
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Microscopy, Confocal
  • Rats
  • Rats, Wistar
  • Vestibule, Labyrinth / ultrastructure*


  • ATP-Binding Cassette Transporters
  • Amino Acid Transport System X-AG
  • Glutamate-Ammonia Ligase