Activity-dependent astrocyte swelling is mediated by pH-regulating mechanisms.

PMID 28744903


During neuronal activity in the mammalian brain, the K+ released into the synaptic space is initially buffered by the astrocytic compartment. In parallel, the extracellular space (ECS) shrinks, presumably due to astrocytic cell swelling. With the Na+ /K+ /2Cl- cotransporter and the Kir4.1/AQP4 complex not required for the astrocytic cell swelling in the hippocampus, the molecular mechanisms underlying the activity-dependent ECS shrinkage have remained unresolved. To identify these molecular mechanisms, we employed ion-sensitive microelectrodes to measure changes in ECS, [K+ ]o and [H+ ]o /pHo during electrical stimulation of rat hippocampal slices. Transporters and receptors responding directly to the K+ and glutamate released into the extracellular space (the K+ /Cl- cotransporter, KCC, glutamate transporters and G protein-coupled receptors) did not modulate the extracellular space dynamics. The HCO3--transporting mechanism, which in astrocytes mainly constitutes the electrogenic Na+ / HCO3- cotransporter 1 (NBCe1), is activated by the K+ -mediated depolarization of the astrocytic membrane. Inhibition of this transporter reduced the ECS shrinkage by ∼25% without affecting the K+ transients, pointing to NBCe1 as a key contributor to the stimulus-induced astrocytic cell swelling. Inhibition of the monocarboxylate cotransporters (MCT), like-wise, reduced the ECS shrinkage by ∼25% without compromising the K+ transients. Isosmotic reduction of extracellular Cl- revealed a requirement for this ion in parts of the ECS shrinkage. Taken together, the stimulus-evoked astrocytic cell swelling does not appear to occur as a direct effect of the K+ clearance, as earlier proposed, but partly via the pH-regulating transport mechanisms activated by the K+ -induced astrocytic depolarization and the activity-dependent metabolism.