Astrocyte-neuron signalling by synaptic stimulation in the ventrobasal thalamus

  • T.M. Pirttimäki

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


In the Ventrobasal (VB) thalamus, astrocytes are known to elicit NMDA-receptor mediated slow inward currents (SICs) spontaneously in neurons. Fluorescence imaging of astrocytes and patch clamp recordings from the thalamocortical (TC) neurons in the VB of 6-23 day old Wistar rats were performed. TC neurons exhibit spontaneous SICs at low frequencies (~0.0015Hz) that were inhibited by NMDA-receptor antagonists D-AP5 (50µM), and were insensitive to TTX (1µM) suggesting a non-neuronal origin. The effect of corticothalamic (CT) and sensory (Sen) afferent stimulation on astrocyte signalling was assessed by varying stimulus parameters. Moderate synaptic stimulation elicited astrocytic Ca2+ increases, but did not affect the incidence of spontaneous SICs. Prolonged synaptic stimulation induced a 265% increase in SIC frequency. This increase lasted over one hour after the cessation of synaptic stimulation, so revealing a Long Term Enhancement (LTE) of astrocyte-neuron signalling. LTE induction required group I mGluR activation. LTE SICs targeted NMDA-receptors located at extrasynaptic sites. LTE showed a developmental profile: from weeks 1-3, the SIC frequency was increased by an average 50%, 240% and 750% respectively. Prolonged exposure to glutamate (200µM) increased spontaneous SIC frequency by 1800%. This “chemical” form of LTE was prevented by the broad-spectrum excitatory amino acid transporter (EAAT) inhibitor TBOA (300µM) suggesting that glutamate uptake was a critical factor. My results therefore show complex glutamatergic signalling interactions between astrocytes and neurons. Furthermore, two previously unrecognised mechanisms of enhancing SIC frequency are described. The synaptically induced LTE represents a form of non-synaptic plasticity and a glial “memory” of previous synaptic activity whilst enhancement after prolonged glutamate exposure may represent a pathological glial signalling mechanism.
Date of AwardFeb 2009
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorRhein Parri (Supervisor)


  • astrocytes
  • glutamate
  • plasticity
  • rat
  • SIC
  • thalamus

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