A computational study of astrocytic glutamate influence on post-synaptic neuronal excitability

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The ability of astrocytes to rapidly clear synaptic glutamate and purposefully release the excitatory transmitter is critical in the functioning of synapses and neuronal circuits. Dysfunctions of these homeostatic functions have been implicated in the pathology of brain disorders such as mesial temporal lobe epilepsy. However, the reasons for these dysfunctions are not clear from experimental data and computational models have been developed to
provide further understanding of the implications of glutamate clearance from the extracellular space, as a result of EAAT2 downregulation: although they only partially account for the glutamate clearance process. In this work, we develop an explicit model of the astrocytic glutamate transporters, providing a more complete description of the glutamate chemical potential across the astrocytic membrane and its contribution to glutamate transporter driving force based on thermodynamic principles and experimental data. Analysis of our model demonstrates that increased astrocytic glutamate content due to glutamine synthetase downregulation also results in increased postsynaptic quantal size due to gliotransmission. Moreover, the proposed model demonstrates that increased astrocytic glutamate could prolong the time course of glutamate in the synaptic cleft and enhances astrocyte-induced slow inward currents, causing a disruption to the clarity of synaptic signalling and the occurrence of intervals of higher frequency postsynaptic firing. Overall, our work distilled the necessity of a low astrocytic glutamate concentration for reliable synaptic transmission of information and the possible implications of enhanced glutamate levels as in epilepsy.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere1006040
Pages (from-to)1-25
Number of pages25
JournalPLoS Computational Biology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 16 Apr 2018


  • Astrocyte
  • Glutamate
  • EAAT
  • Gliotransmission
  • Glutaminesynthetase
  • tripartite-synapse
  • computational model


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