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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Astrocytes increase the activity of synaptic GluN2B NMDA receptors.

  • Author(s): Hahn, Junghyun
  • Wang, Xianhong
  • Margeta, Marta
  • et al.

Astrocytes regulate excitatory synapse formation and surface expression of glutamate AMPA receptors (AMPARs) during development. Less is known about glial modulation of glutamate NMDA receptors (NMDARs), which mediate synaptic plasticity and regulate neuronal survival in a subunit- and subcellular localization-dependent manner. Using primary hippocampal cultures with mature synapses, we found that the density of NMDA-evoked whole-cell currents was approximately twice as large in neurons cultured in the presence of glia compared to neurons cultured alone. The glial effect was mediated by (an) astrocyte-secreted soluble factor(s), was Mg(2+) and voltage independent, and could not be explained by a significant change in the synaptic density. Instead, we found that the peak amplitudes of total and NMDAR miniature excitatory postsynaptic currents (mEPSCs), but not AMPAR mEPSCs, were significantly larger in mixed than neuronal cultures, resulting in a decreased synaptic AMPAR/NMDAR ratio. Astrocytic modulation was restricted to synaptic NMDARs that contain the GluN2B subunit, did not involve an increase in the cell surface expression of NMDAR subunits, and was mediated by protein kinase C (PKC). Taken together, our findings indicate that astrocyte-secreted soluble factor(s) can fine-tune synaptic NMDAR activity through the PKC-mediated regulation of GluN2B NMDAR channels already localized at postsynaptic sites, presumably on a rapid time scale. Given that physiologic activation of synaptic NMDARs is neuroprotective and that an increase in the synaptic GluN2B current is associated with improved learning and memory, the astrocyte-induced potentiation of synaptic GluN2B receptor activity is likely to enhance cognitive function while simultaneously strengthening neuroprotective signaling pathways.

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