The Relationship Between Glutamate Dynamics and Activity-Dependent Synaptic Plasticity


The spatiotemporal dynamics of excitatory neurotransmission must be tightly regulated to achieve efficient synaptic communication. By limiting spillover, glutamate transporters are believed to prevent excessive activation of extrasynaptically located receptors that can impair synaptic plasticity. While glutamate transporter expression is reduced in numerous neurodegenerative diseases, the contributions of transporter dysfunction to disease pathophysiology remain ambiguous as the fundamental relationship between glutamate dynamics and plasticity, and the mechanisms linking these two phenomena, remain poorly understood. Here, we combined electrophysiology and real-time high-speed imaging of extracellular glutamate transients during LTP induction and characterized the sensitivity of the relationship between glutamate dynamics during theta burst stimulation (TBS) and the resulting magnitude of LTP consolidation, both in control conditions and following selective and nonselective glutamate transporter blockade. Glutamate clearance times were negatively correlated with LTP magnitude following nonselective glutamate transporter inhibition but not following selective blockade of a majority of GLT-1, the brain’s most abundant glutamate transporter. Although glutamate transporter inhibition reduced the postsynaptic population response to TBS, calcium responses to TBS were greatly exaggerated. The source of excess calcium was dependent on NMDARs, L-type VGCCs, GluA2-lacking AMPARs, and internal calcium stores. Surprisingly, inhibition of L-type VGCCs, but not GluA2-lacking AMPARs or ryanodine receptors, was required to restore robust LTP. In all, these data provide a detailed understanding of the relationship between glutamate dynamics and plasticity and uncover important mechanisms by which poor glutamate uptake can negatively impact LTP consolidation.

SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT Specific patterns of neural activity can promote long-term changes in the strength of synaptic connections through a phenomenon known as synaptic plasticity. Synaptic plasticity is well accepted to represent the cellular mechanisms underlying learning and memory, and many forms of plasticity are initiated by the excitatory neurotransmitter glutamate. While essential for rapid cellular communication in the brain, excessive levels of extracellular glutamate can negatively impact brain function. In this study, we demonstrate that pharmacological manipulations that increase the availability of extracellular glutamate during neural activity can have profoundly negative consequences on synaptic plasticity. We identify mechanisms through which excess glutamate can negatively influence synaptic plasticity, and we discuss the relevance of these findings to neurodegenerative diseases and in the aging brain.

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