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1.  Sustained neuronal activity generated by glial plasticity 
Astrocytes release gliotransmitters, notably glutamate, that can affect neuronal and synaptic activity. In particular, astrocytic glutamate release results in the generation of N-methyl D-aspartate receptor (NMDA-R) mediated slow inward currents (SICs) in neurons. However, factors underlying the emergence of SICs, and their physiological roles are largely unknown. Here we show that, in acute slices of rat somatosensory thalamus, stimulation of Lemniscal or cortical afferents results in a sustained increase of SICs in thalamocortical (TC) neurons that outlasts the duration of the stimulus by an hour. This long term enhancement (LTE) of astrocytic glutamate release is induced by group I metabotropic glutamate receptors (mGluRs), and is dependent on astrocytic intracellular calcium ([Ca2+]i). Neuronal SICs are mediated by extrasynaptic NR2B subunit-containing NMDA-Rs and are capable of eliciting bursts. These are distinct from T-type Ca2+ channel dependent bursts of action potentials, and are synchronized in neighboring TC neurons. These findings describe a previously unrecognized form of excitatory, non-synaptic plasticity in the central nervous system (CNS) that feeds forward to generate local neuronal firing long after stimulus termination.
PMCID: PMC3118423  PMID: 21613477
2.  Sensory and cortical activation of distinct glial cell subtypes in the somatosensory thalamus of young rats 
The rodent ventrobasal (VB) thalamus receives sensory inputs from the whiskers and projects to the cortex, from which it receives reciprocal excitatory afferents. Much is known about the properties and functional roles of these glutamatergic inputs to thalamocortical neurons in the VB, but no data are available on how these afferents can affect thalamic glial cells. In this study, we used combined electrophysiological recordings and intracellular calcium ([Ca2+]i) imaging to investigate glial cell responses to synaptic afferent stimulation. VB thalamus glial cells can be divided into two groups based on their [Ca2+]i and electrophysiological responses to sensory and corticothalamic stimulation. One group consists of astrocytes, which stain positively for S100B and preferentially load with SR101, have linear current–voltage relations and low input resistance, show no voltage-dependent [Ca2+]i responses, but express mGluR5-dependent [Ca2+]i transients following stimulation of the sensory and/or corticothalamic excitatory afferent pathways. Cells of the other glial group, by contrast, stain positively for NG2, and are characterized by high input resistance, the presence of voltage-dependent [Ca2+]i elevations and voltage-gated inward currents. There were no synaptically induced [Ca2+]i elevations in these cells under control conditions. These results show that thalamic glial cell responses to synaptic input exhibit different properties to those of thalamocortical neurons. As VB astrocytes can respond to synaptic stimulation and signal to neighbouring neurons, this glial cell organization may have functional implications for the processing of somatosensory information and modulation of behavioural state-dependent thalamocortical network activities.
PMCID: PMC2909395  PMID: 20608967
astrocyte; Ng2; OPC; vibrissae
3.  GABAB receptor-mediated activation of astrocytes by gamma-hydroxybutyric acid 
The gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) metabolite gamma-hydroxybutyric acid (GHB) shows a variety of behavioural effects when administered to animals and humans, including reward/addiction properties and absence seizures. At the cellular level, these actions of GHB are mediated by activation of neuronal GABAB receptors (GABABRs) where it acts as a weak agonist. Because astrocytes respond to endogenous and exogenously applied GABA by activation of both GABAA and GABABRs, here we investigated the action of GHB on astrocytes on the ventral tegmental area (VTA) and the ventrobasal (VB) thalamic nucleus, two brain areas involved in the reward and proepileptic action of GHB, respectively, and compared it with that of the potent GABABR agonist baclofen. We found that GHB and baclofen elicited dose-dependent (ED50: 1.6 mM and 1.3 µM, respectively) transient increases in intracellular Ca2+ in VTA and VB astrocytes of young mice and rats, which were accounted for by activation of their GABABRs and mediated by Ca2+ release from intracellular store release. In contrast, prolonged GHB and baclofen exposure caused a reduction in spontaneous astrocyte activity and glutamate release from VTA astrocytes. These findings have key (patho)physiological implications for our understanding of the addictive and proepileptic actions of GHB.
PMCID: PMC4173292  PMID: 25225100
ventral tegmental area; thalamus; baclofen; reward; absence seizures
4.  Functional astrocyte–neuron lactate shuttle in a human stem cell-derived neuronal network 
The NT2.D1 cell line is one of the most well-documented embryocarcinoma cell lines, and can be differentiated into neurons and astrocytes. Great focus has also been placed on defining the electrophysiological properties of the neuronal cells, and more recently we have investigated the functional properties of their associated astrocytes. We now show for the first time that human stem cell-derived astrocytes produce glycogen and that co-cultures of these cells demonstrate a functional astrocyte–neuron lactate shuttle (ANLS). The ANLS hypothesis proposes that during neuronal activity, glutamate released into the synaptic cleft is taken up by astrocytes and triggers glucose uptake, which is converted into lactate and released via monocarboxylate transporters for neuronal use. Using mixed cultures of NT2-derived neurons and astrocytes, we have shown that these cells modulate their glucose uptake in response to glutamate. Additionally, we demonstrate that in response to increased neuronal activity and under hypoglycaemic conditions, co-cultures modulate glycogen turnover and increase lactate production. Similar results were also shown after treatment with glutamate, potassium, isoproterenol, and dbcAMP. Together, these results demonstrate for the first time a functional ANLS in a human stem cell-derived co-culture.
PMCID: PMC3764384  PMID: 23715062
astrocyte; glycogen; lactate; neuron; stem cell
5.  α7 Nicotinic Receptor-Mediated Astrocytic Gliotransmitter Release: Aβ Effects in a Preclinical Alzheimer’s Mouse Model 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(11):e81828.
It is now recognized that astrocytes participate in synaptic communication through intimate interactions with neurons. A principal mechanism is through the release of gliotransmitters (GTs) such as ATP, D-serine and most notably, glutamate, in response to astrocytic calcium elevations. We and others have shown that amyloid-β (Aβ), the toxic trigger for Alzheimer’s disease (AD), interacts with hippocampal α7 nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs). Since α7nAChRs are highly permeable to calcium and are expressed on hippocampal astrocytes, we investigated whether Aβ could activate astrocytic α7nAChRs in hippocampal slices and induce GT glutamate release. We found that biologically-relevant concentrations of Aβ1-42 elicited α7nAChR-dependent calcium elevations in hippocampal CA1 astrocytes and induced NMDAR-mediated slow inward currents (SICs) in CA1 neurons. In the Tg2576 AD mouse model for Aβ over-production and accumulation, we found that spontaneous astrocytic calcium elevations were of higher frequency compared to wildtype (WT). The frequency and kinetic parameters of AD mice SICs indicated enhanced gliotransmission, possibly due to increased endogenous Aβ observed in this model. Activation of α7nAChRs on WT astrocytes increased spontaneous inward currents on pyramidal neurons while α7nAChRs on astrocytes of AD mice were abrogated. These findings suggest that, at an age that far precedes the emergence of cognitive deficits and plaque deposition, this mouse model for AD-like amyloidosis exhibits augmented astrocytic activity and glutamate GT release suggesting possible repercussions for preclinical AD hippocampal neural networks that contribute to subsequent cognitive decline.
PMCID: PMC3842962  PMID: 24312364
6.  NT2 Derived Neuronal and Astrocytic Network Signalling 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(5):e36098.
A major focus of stem cell research is the generation of neurons that may then be implanted to treat neurodegenerative diseases. However, a picture is emerging where astrocytes are partners to neurons in sustaining and modulating brain function. We therefore investigated the functional properties of NT2 derived astrocytes and neurons using electrophysiological and calcium imaging approaches. NT2 neurons (NT2Ns) expressed sodium dependent action potentials, as well as responses to depolarisation and the neurotransmitter glutamate. NT2Ns exhibited spontaneous and coordinated calcium elevations in clusters and in extended processes, indicating local and long distance signalling. Tetrodotoxin sensitive network activity could also be evoked by electrical stimulation. Similarly, NT2 astrocytes (NT2As) exhibited morphology and functional properties consistent with this glial cell type. NT2As responded to neuronal activity and to exogenously applied neurotransmitters with calcium elevations, and in contrast to neurons, also exhibited spontaneous rhythmic calcium oscillations. NT2As also generated propagating calcium waves that were gap junction and purinergic signalling dependent. Our results show that NT2 derived astrocytes exhibit appropriate functionality and that NT2N networks interact with NT2A networks in co-culture. These findings underline the utility of such cultures to investigate human brain cell type signalling under controlled conditions. Furthermore, since stem cell derived neuron function and survival is of great importance therapeutically, our findings suggest that the presence of complementary astrocytes may be valuable in supporting stem cell derived neuronal networks. Indeed, this also supports the intriguing possibility of selective therapeutic replacement of astrocytes in diseases where these cells are either lost or lose functionality.
PMCID: PMC3342170  PMID: 22567128
7.  Rapid Aquaporin Translocation Regulates Cellular Water Flow 
The Journal of Biological Chemistry  2012;287(14):11516-11525.
Background: Aquaporin channels ensure appropriate membrane permeability to water in all cells.
Results: Following a hypotonic stimulus, subcellular localization of aquaporin 1 occurs via a mechanism dependent on transient receptor potential channels, extracellular calcium influx, calmodulin, and the phosphorylation of two threonines (157 and 239) of aquaporin 1.
Conclusion: Rapid translocation of aquaporin 1 regulates membrane water permeability.
Significance: This mechanism may serve as a prototype for the rapid regulation of aquaporin function.
The control of cellular water flow is mediated by the aquaporin (AQP) family of membrane proteins. The structural features of the family and the mechanism of selective water passage through the AQP pore are established, but there remains a gap in our knowledge of how water transport is regulated. Two broad possibilities exist. One is controlling the passage of water through the AQP pore, but this only has been observed as a phenomenon in some plant and microbial AQPs. An alternative is controlling the number of AQPs in the cell membrane. Here, we describe a novel pathway in mammalian cells whereby a hypotonic stimulus directly induces intracellular calcium elevations through transient receptor potential channels, which trigger AQP1 translocation. This translocation, which has a direct role in cell volume regulation, occurs within 30 s and is dependent on calmodulin activation and phosphorylation of AQP1 at two threonine residues by protein kinase C. This direct mechanism provides a rationale for the changes in water transport that are required in response to constantly changing local cellular water availability. Moreover, because calcium is a pluripotent and ubiquitous second messenger in biological systems, the discovery of its role in the regulation of AQP translocation has ramifications for diverse physiological and pathophysiological processes, as well as providing an explanation for the rapid regulation of water flow that is necessary for cell homeostasis.
PMCID: PMC3322852  PMID: 22334691
Aquaporin; Calcium Channels; Cellular Regulation; Membrane Trafficking; Phosphorylation; Water Channel; Homeostasis; Hypotonicity
8.  Infra-slow (<0.1 Hz) oscillations in thalamic relay nuclei: basic mechanisms and significance to health and disease states 
Progress in brain research  2011;193:145-162.
In the absence of external stimuli the mammalian brain continues to display a rich variety of spontaneous activity. Such activity is often highly stereotypical, invariably rhythmic and can occur with periodicities ranging from a few milliseconds to several minutes. Recently there has been a particular resurgence of interest in fluctuations in brain activity occurring at <0.1 Hz, commonly referred to as very slow or infra-slow oscillations (ISOs). Whilst this is primarily due to the emergence of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) as a technique which has revolutionised the study of human brain dynamics it is also a consequence of the application of full band electroencephalography (fbEEG). Despite these technical advances the precise mechanisms which lead to ISOs in the brain remain unclear. In a host of animal studies, one brain region that consistently shows oscillations at <0.1 Hz is the thalamus. Importantly, similar oscillations can also be observed in slices of isolated thalamic relay nuclei maintained in vitro. Here, we discuss the nature and mechanisms of these oscillations, paying particular attention to a potential role for astrocytes in their genesis. We also highlight the relationship between this activity and ongoing local network oscillations in the alpha (α) (~8-13 Hz) band, drawing clear parallels with observations made in vivo. Lastly, we consider the relevance of these thalamic ISOs to the pathological activity that occurs in certain types of epilepsy.
PMCID: PMC3173874  PMID: 21854961
acetylcholine; metabotropic glutamate receptor; EEG; gap junctions; alpha rhythm; epilepsy; adenosine; astrocytes; GIRK channels
9.  Novel neuronal and astrocytic mechanisms in thalamocortical loop dynamics. 
In this review, we summarize three sets of findings that have recently been observed in thalamic astrocytes and neurons, and discuss their significance for thalamocortical loop dynamics. (i) A physiologically relevant 'window' component of the low-voltage-activated, T-type Ca(2+) current (I(Twindow)) plays an essential part in the slow (less than 1 Hz) sleep oscillation in adult thalamocortical (TC) neurons, indicating that the expression of this fundamental sleep rhythm in these neurons is not a simple reflection of cortical network activity. It is also likely that I(Twindow) underlies one of the cellular mechanisms enabling TC neurons to produce burst firing in response to novel sensory stimuli. (ii) Both electrophysiological and dye-injection experiments support the existence of gap junction-mediated coupling among young and adult TC neurons. This finding indicates that electrical coupling-mediated synchronization might be implicated in the high and low frequency oscillatory activities expressed by this type of thalamic neuron. (iii) Spontaneous intracellular Ca(2+) ([Ca(2+)](i)) waves propagating among thalamic astrocytes are able to elicit large and long-lasting N-methyl-D-aspartate-mediated currents in TC neurons. The peculiar developmental profile within the first two postnatal weeks of these astrocytic [Ca(2+)](i) transients and the selective activation of these glutamate receptors point to a role for this astrocyte-to-neuron signalling mechanism in the topographic wiring of the thalamocortical loop. As some of these novel cellular and intracellular properties are not restricted to thalamic astrocytes and neurons, their significance may well apply to (patho)physiological functions of glial and neuronal elements in other brain areas.
PMCID: PMC1693082  PMID: 12626003

Results 1-9 (9)