Comment on “Bidirectional plasticity of calcium-permeable AMPA receptors in oligodendrocyte lineage cells.” [Nat Neurosci. 2011]
Chemical synaptic transmission provides the basis for much of the rapid signaling that occurs within neuronal networks. However, recent studies have provided compelling evidence that synapses are not used exclusively for communication between neurons. Physiological and anatomical studies indicate that a distinct class of glia known as NG2(+) cells also forms direct synaptic junctions with both glutamatergic and GABAergic neurons. Glutamatergic signaling can influence intracellular Ca(2+) levels in NG2(+) cells by activating Ca(2+) permeable AMPA receptors, and these inputs can be potentiated through high frequency stimulation. Although the significance of this highly differentiated form of communication remains to be established, these neuro-glia synapses might enable neurons to influence rapidly the behavior of this ubiquitous class of glial progenitors.
The molecular layer of the cerebellar cortex is populated by glial progenitors that express ionotropic glutamate receptors and extend numerous processes among Purkinje cell dendrites. Here, we show that release of glutamate from climbing fiber (CF) axons produces AMPA receptor currents with rapid kinetics in these NG2-immunoreactive glial cells (NG2+ cells) in cerebellar slices. NG2+ cells may receive up to 70 discrete inputs from one CF and, unlike mature Purkinje cells, are often innervated by multiple CFs. Paired Purkinje cell-NG2+ cell recordings show that one CF can innervate both cell types. CF boutons make direct synaptic junctions with NG2+ cell processes, indicating that this rapid neuron-glia signaling occurs at discrete sites rather than through ectopic release at CF-Purkinje cell synapses. This robust activation of Ca2+-permeable AMPA receptors in NG2+ cells expands the influence of the olivocerebellar projection to this abundant class of glial progenitors.