Electrophysiological properties and gap junction coupling of striatal astrocytes

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The striatum is the biggest nucleus of the basal ganglia and receives input from almost all cortical regions, substantia nigra and the thalamus. Striatal neuronal circuitry is well characterized, but less is known about glial physiology. To this end, we evaluated astrocyte electrophysiological properties using whole-cell patch-clamp recording in dorsal striatal brain slices from P15 to P21 rat. The majority of cells (95%) were passive astrocytes that do not express any detectable voltage-gated channels. Passive astrocytes were subcategorized into three groups based on time-dependent current properties. The observed proportion of the different astrocyte subtypes did not change within the age range evaluated here, but was modulated during reduction of specific conductances and gap junction coupling. Striatal astrocytes were extensively interconnected and closure of gap junctions with octanol (1 mM), carbenoxolone (100 μM) or increased intracellular calcium (2 mM), significantly altered intrinsic properties. When simultaneously blocking potassium channels and gap junction coupling almost no passive conductance was detected, implying that the major currents in striatal astrocytes derive from potassium and gap junction conductance. Uncoupling of the syncytium reduced currents activated in response to a hyperpolarizing pulse, suggesting that changes in gap junction coupling alters astrocyte electrophysiological responses. Our findings indicate that the prevalent gap junction coupling is vital for astrocyte function in the striatum, and that whole-cell recordings will be distorted by currents activated in neighboring cells.

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