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ATP Hysteresis in Tripartite Synapses

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Abstract

Recent experimental studies strongly suggest the influence of glial purinergic transmission in the modulation of synaptic dynamics. By releasing adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which accumulates as adenosine, astrocytes tonically suppressed synaptic transmission. The delayed multi-step feedback of the glial adenosine with the neuron suggest the existence of hysteresis phenomena, which are investigated in the present study from the theoretical point of view. The model suggests that a memory operator, tripartite synaptic plasticity, governs the mysterious delayed feedback inhibition caused by the action of adenosine on neuronal $A_1$ receptors and provides a powerful tool for further dynamical modeling tasks on tripartite synapses.

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For decades, astrocytes have been considered to be non-excitable support cells of the brain. However, this view has changed radically during the past twenty years. The recent recognition that they are organized in separate territories and possess active properties--notably a competence for the regulated release of 'gliotransmitters', including glutamate--has enabled us to develop an understanding of previously unknown functions for astrocytes. Today, astrocytes are seen as local communication elements of the brain that can generate various regulatory signals and bridge structures (from neuronal to vascular) and networks that are otherwise disconnected from each other. Examples of their specific and essential roles in normal physiological processes have begun to accumulate, and the number of diseases known to involve defective astrocytes is increasing.
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Astrocytes play a critical role in brain homeostasis controlling the local environment in normal as well as in pathological conditions, such as during hypoxic/ischemic insult. Since astrocytes have recently been identified as a source for a wide variety of gliotransmitters that modulate synaptic activity, we investigated whether the hypoxia-induced excitatory synaptic depression might be mediated by adenosine release from astrocytes. We used electrophysiological and Ca2+ imaging techniques in hippocampal slices and transgenic mice, in which ATP released from astrocytes is specifically impaired, as well as chemiluminescent and fluorescence photometric Ca2+ techniques in purified cultured astrocytes. In hippocampal slices, hypoxia induced a transient depression of excitatory synaptic transmission mediated by activation of presynaptic A1 adenosine receptors. The glia-specific metabolic inhibitor fluorocitrate (FC) was as effective as the A1 adenosine receptor antagonist CPT in preventing the hypoxia-induced excitatory synaptic transmission reduction. Furthermore, FC abolished the extracellular adenosine concentration increase during hypoxia in astrocyte cultures. Several lines of evidence suggest that the increase of extracellular adenosine levels during hypoxia does not result from extracellular ATP or cAMP catabolism, and that astrocytes directly release adenosine in response to hypoxia. Adenosine release is negatively modulated by external or internal Ca2+ concentrations. Moreover, adenosine transport inhibitors did not modify the hypoxia-induced effects, suggesting that adenosine was not released by facilitated transport. We conclude that during hypoxia, astrocytes contribute to regulate the excitatory synaptic transmission through the release of adenosine, which acting on A1 adenosine receptors reduces presynaptic transmitter release. Therefore, adenosine release from astrocytes serves as a protective mechanism by down regulating the synaptic activity level during demanding conditions such as transient hypoxia.
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In addition to being essential supporters of neuronal function, astrocytes are now recognized as active elements in the brain. Astrocytes sense and integrate synaptic activity and, depending on intracellular Ca(2+) levels, release gliotransmitters (e.g. glutamate, d-serine and ATP) that have feedback actions on neurons. Recent experimental results have raised the possibility that quantitative variations in gliotransmission might contribute to disorders of the nervous system. Here, we discuss targeted molecular genetic approaches that have demonstrated that alterations in protein expression in astrocytes can lead to serious changes in neuronal function. We also introduce the concept of 'astrocyte activation spectrum' in which enhanced and reduced gliotransmission might contribute to epilepsy and schizophrenia, respectively. The results of future experimental tests of the astrocyte activation spectrum, which relates gliotransmission to neurological and psychiatric disorders, might point to a new therapeutic target in the brain.
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The studies aiming to understand the function of purinoceptors in the central nervous system (CNS), which has been explored mostly in isolated and cultured cell systems, are now at the stage of identifying their physiological and pathophysiological significance in the native organs, tissues, and whole animals. The results of our recent studies made in brain slice preparations are not in full accordance with what have been demonstrated in isolated cells, mostly due to strong interplay between ATP receptors, adenosine receptors, and ecto-nucleotidases. This suggests that these proteins form coordinated regulation systems in the native tissue, controlling the local network behaviors through regulating the balance between the effects of ATP and adenosine on synaptic transmissions. We propose that this tripartite regulation system by extracellular purines may be an important target of CNS drugs.
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