Transient Opening of the Mitochondrial Permeability Transition Pore Induces Microdomain Calcium Transients in Astrocyte Processes.

Astrocytes extend highly branched processes that form functionally isolated microdomains, facilitating local homeostasis by redistributing ions, removing neurotransmitters, and releasing factors to influence blood flow and neuronal activity. Microdomains exhibit spontaneous increases in calcium (Ca2+), but the mechanisms and functional significance of this localized signaling are unknown. By developing conditional, membrane-anchored GCaMP3 mice, we found that microdomain activity that occurs in the absence of inositol triphosphate (IP3)-dependent release from endoplasmic reticulum arises through Ca2+ efflux from mitochondria during brief openings of the mitochondrial permeability transition pore. These microdomain Ca2+ transients were facilitated by the production of reactive oxygen species during oxidative phosphorylation and were enhanced by expression of a mutant form of superoxide dismutase 1 (SOD1 G93A) that causes astrocyte dysfunction and neurodegeneration in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). By localizing mitochondria to microdomains, astrocytes ensure local metabolic support for energetically demanding processes and enable coupling between metabolic demand and Ca2+ signaling events.

Neuromodulators signal through astrocytes to alter neural circuit activity and behaviour.

Astrocytes associate with synapses throughout the brain and express receptors for neurotransmitters that can increase intracellular calcium (Ca2+). Astrocytic Ca2+ signalling has been proposed to modulate neural circuit activity, but the pathways that regulate these events are poorly defined and in vivo evidence linking changes in astrocyte Ca2+ levels to alterations in neurotransmission or behaviour is limited. Here we show that Drosophila astrocytes exhibit activity-regulated Ca2+ signalling in vivo. Tyramine and octopamine released from neurons expressing tyrosine decarboxylase 2 (Tdc2) signal directly to astrocytes to stimulate Ca2+ increases through the octopamine/tyramine receptor (Oct-TyrR) and the transient receptor potential (TRP) channel Water witch (Wtrw), and astrocytes in turn modulate downstream dopaminergic neurons. Application of tyramine or octopamine to live preparations silenced dopaminergic neurons and this inhibition required astrocytic Oct-TyrR and Wtrw. Increasing astrocyte Ca2+ signalling was sufficient to silence dopaminergic neuron activity, which was mediated by astrocyte endocytic function and adenosine receptors. Selective disruption of Oct-TyrR or Wtrw expression in astrocytes blocked astrocytic Ca2+ signalling and profoundly altered olfactory-driven chemotaxis and touch-induced startle responses. Our work identifies Oct-TyrR and Wtrw as key components of the astrocytic Ca2+ signalling machinery, provides direct evidence that octopamine- and tyramine-based neuromodulation can be mediated by astrocytes, and demonstrates that astrocytes are essential for multiple sensory-driven behaviours in Drosophila.

Glial Cell Calcium Signaling Mediates Capillary Regulation of Blood Flow in the Retina.

The brain is critically dependent on the regulation of blood flow to nourish active neurons. One widely held hypothesis of blood flow regulation holds that active neurons stimulate Ca(2+) increases in glial cells, triggering glial release of vasodilating agents. This hypothesis has been challenged, as arteriole dilation can occur in the absence of glial Ca(2+) signaling. We address this controversy by imaging glial Ca(2+) signaling and vessel dilation in the mouse retina. We find that sensory stimulation results in Ca(2+) increases in the glial endfeet contacting capillaries, but not arterioles, and that capillary dilations often follow spontaneous Ca(2+) signaling. In IP3R2(-/-) mice, where glial Ca(2+) signaling is reduced, light-evoked capillary, but not arteriole, dilation is abolished. The results show that, independent of arterioles, capillaries actively dilate and regulate blood flow. Furthermore, the results demonstrate that glial Ca(2+) signaling regulates capillary but not arteriole blood flow.

NMDA Receptors Enhance Spontaneous Activity and Promote Neuronal Survival in the Developing Cochlea.

Spontaneous bursts of activity in developing sensory pathways promote maturation of neurons, refinement of neuronal connections, and assembly of appropriate functional networks. In the developing auditory system, inner hair cells (IHCs) spontaneously fire Ca(2+) spikes, each of which is transformed into a mini-burst of action potentials in spiral ganglion neurons (SGNs). Here we show that NMDARs are expressed in SGN dendritic terminals and play a critical role during transmission of activity from IHCs to SGNs before hearing onset. NMDAR activation enhances glutamate-mediated Ca(2+) influx at dendritic terminals, promotes repetitive firing of individual SGNs in response to each synaptic event, and enhances coincident activity of neighboring SGNs that will eventually encode similar frequencies of sound. Loss of NMDAR signaling from SGNs reduced their survival both in vivo and in vitro, revealing that spontaneous activity in the prehearing cochlea promotes maturation of auditory circuitry through periodic activation of NMDARs in SGNs.

Neuron-glia Signaling in Developing Retina Mediated by Neurotransmitter Spillover.

Neuron-glia interactions play a critical role in the maturation of neural circuits; however, little is known about the pathways that mediate their communication in the developing CNS. We investigated neuron-glia signaling in the developing retina, where we demonstrate that retinal waves reliably induce calcium transients in Müller glial cells (MCs). During cholinergic waves, MC calcium transients were blocked by muscarinic acetylcholine receptor antagonists, whereas during glutamatergic waves, MC calcium transients were inhibited by ionotropic glutamate receptor antagonists, indicating that the responsiveness of MCs changes to match the neurotransmitter used to support retinal waves. Using an optical glutamate sensor we show that the decline in MC calcium transients is caused by a reduction in the amount of glutamate reaching MCs. Together, these studies indicate that neurons and MCs exhibit correlated activity during a critical period of retinal maturation that is enabled by neurotransmitter spillover from retinal synapses.

Spontaneous activity in the developing auditory system.

Spontaneous electrical activity is a common feature of sensory systems during early development. This sensory-independent neuronal activity has been implicated in promoting their survival and maturation, as well as growth and refinement of their projections to yield circuits that can rapidly extract information about the external world. Periodic bursts of action potentials occur in auditory neurons of mammals before hearing onset. This activity is induced by inner hair cells (IHCs) within the developing cochlea, which establish functional connections with spiral ganglion neurons (SGNs) several weeks before they are capable of detecting external sounds. During this pre-hearing period, IHCs fire periodic bursts of Ca(2+) action potentials that excite SGNs, triggering brief but intense periods of activity that pass through auditory centers of the brain. Although spontaneous activity requires input from IHCs, there is ongoing debate about whether IHCs are intrinsically active and their firing periodically interrupted by external inhibitory input (IHC-inhibition model), or are intrinsically silent and their firing periodically promoted by an external excitatory stimulus (IHC-excitation model). There is accumulating evidence that inner supporting cells in Kölliker’s organ spontaneously release ATP during this time, which can induce bursts of Ca(2+) spikes in IHCs that recapitulate many features of auditory neuron activity observed in vivo. Nevertheless, the role of supporting cells in this process remains to be established in vivo. A greater understanding of the molecular mechanisms responsible for generating IHC activity in the developing cochlea will help reveal how these events contribute to the maturation of nascent auditory circuits.

Calcium dynamics in astrocyte processes during neurovascular coupling.

Enhanced neuronal activity in the brain triggers a local increase in blood flow, termed functional hyperemia, via several mechanisms, including calcium (Ca(2+)) signaling in astrocytes. However, recent in vivo studies have questioned the role of astrocytes in functional hyperemia because of the slow and sparse dynamics of their somatic Ca(2+) signals and the absence of glutamate metabotropic receptor 5 in adults. Here, we reexamined their role in neurovascular coupling by selectively expressing a genetically encoded Ca(2+) sensor in astrocytes of the olfactory bulb. We show that in anesthetized mice, the physiological activation of olfactory sensory neuron (OSN) terminals reliably triggers Ca(2+) increases in astrocyte processes but not in somata. These Ca(2+) increases systematically precede the onset of functional hyperemia by 1-2 s, reestablishing astrocytes as potential regulators of neurovascular coupling.

Multiscale optical Ca2+ imaging of tonal organization in mouse auditory cortex.

Spatial patterns of functional organization, resolved by microelectrode mapping, comprise a core principle of sensory cortices. In auditory cortex, however, recent two-photon Ca2+ imaging challenges this precept, as the traditional tonotopic arrangement appears weakly organized at the level of individual neurons. To resolve this fundamental ambiguity about the organization of auditory cortex, we developed multiscale optical Ca2+ imaging of unanesthetized GCaMP transgenic mice. Single-neuron activity monitored by two-photon imaging was precisely registered to large-scale cortical maps provided by transcranial widefield imaging. Neurons in the primary field responded well to tones; neighboring neurons were appreciably cotuned, and preferred frequencies adhered tightly to a tonotopic axis. By contrast, nearby secondary-field neurons exhibited heterogeneous tuning. The multiscale imaging approach also readily localized vocalization regions and neurons. Altogether, these findings cohere electrode and two-photon perspectives, resolve new features of auditory cortex, and offer a promising approach generalizable to any cortical area.

Norepinephrine controls astroglial responsiveness to local circuit activity.

Astrocytes perform crucial supportive functions, including neurotransmitter clearance, ion buffering, and metabolite delivery. They can also influence blood flow and neuronal activity by releasing gliotransmitters in response to intracellular Ca(2+) transients. However, little is known about how astrocytes are engaged during different behaviors in vivo. Here we demonstrate that norepinephrine primes astrocytes to detect changes in cortical network activity. We show in mice that locomotion triggers simultaneous activation of astrocyte networks in multiple brain regions. This global stimulation of astrocytes was inhibited by alpha-adrenoceptor antagonists and abolished by depletion of norepinephrine from the brain. Although astrocytes in visual cortex of awake mice were rarely engaged when neurons were activated by light stimulation alone, pairing norepinephrine release with light stimulation markedly enhanced astrocyte Ca(2+) signaling. Our findings indicate that norepinephrine shifts the gain of astrocyte networks according to behavioral state, enabling astrocytes to respond to local changes in neuronal activity.

ATP-induced morphological changes in supporting cells of the developing cochlea.

The developing cochlea of mammals contains a large group of columnar-shaped cells, which together form a structure known as Kölliker’s organ. Prior to the onset of hearing, these inner supporting cells periodically release adenosine 5′-triphosphate (ATP), which activates purinergic receptors in surrounding supporting cells, inner hair cells and the dendrites of primary auditory neurons. Recent studies indicate that purinergic signaling between inner supporting cells and inner hair cells initiates bursts of action potentials in auditory nerve fibers before the onset of hearing. ATP also induces prominent effects in inner supporting cells, including an increase in membrane conductance, a rise in intracellular Ca(2+), and dramatic changes in cell shape, although the importance of ATP signaling in non-sensory cells of the developing cochlea remains unknown. Here, we review current knowledge pertaining to purinergic signaling in supporting cells of Kölliker’s organ and focus on the mechanisms by which ATP induces changes in their morphology. We show that these changes in cell shape are preceded by increases in cytoplasmic Ca(2+), and provide new evidence indicating that elevation of intracellular Ca(2+) and IP(3) are sufficient to initiate shape changes. In addition, we discuss the possibility that these ATP-mediated morphological changes reflect crenation following the activation of Ca(2+)-activated Cl(-) channels, and speculate about the possible functions of these changes in cell morphology for maturation of the cochlea.