A functional coupling between extrasynaptic NMDA receptors and A-type K+ channels under astrocyte control regulates hypothalamic neurosecretory neuronal activity

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Neuronal activity is controlled by a fine-tuned balance between intrinsic properties and extrinsic synaptic inputs. Moreover, neighbouring astrocytes are now recognized to influence a wide spectrum of neuronal functions. Yet, how these three key factors act in concert to modulate and fine-tune neuronal output is not well understood. Here, we show that in rat hypothalamic magnocellular neurosecretory cells (MNCs), glutamate NMDA receptors (NMDARs) are negatively coupled to the transient, voltage-gated A-type K+ current (IA). We found that activation of NMDARs by extracellular glutamate levels influenced by astrocyte glutamate transporters resulted in a significant inhibition of IA. The NMDAR–IA functional coupling resulted from activation of extrasynaptic NMDARs, was calcium- and protein kinase C-dependent, and involved enhanced steady-state, voltage-dependent inactivation of IA. The NMDAR–IA coupling diminished the latency to the first evoked spike in response to membrane depolarization and increased the total number of evoked action potentials, thus strengthening the neuronal input/output function. Finally, we found a blunted NMDA-mediated inhibition of IA in dehydrated rats. Together, our findings support a novel signalling mechanism that involves a functional coupling between extrasynaptic NMDARs and A-type K+ channels, which is influenced by local astrocytes. We show this signalling complex to play an important role in modulating hypothalamic neuronal excitability, which may contribute to adaptive responses during a sustained osmotic challenge such as dehydration.

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