Zones of enhanced glutamate release from climbing fibers in the mammalian cerebellum.

Purkinje cells in the mammalian cerebellum are remarkably homogeneous in shape and orientation, yet they exhibit regional differences in gene expression. Purkinje cells that express high levels of zebrin II (aldolase C) and the glutamate transporter EAAT4 cluster in parasagittal zones that receive input from distinct groups of climbing fibers (CFs); however, the physiological properties of CFs that target these molecularly distinct Purkinje cells have not been determined. Here we report that CFs that innervate Purkinje cells in zebrin II-immunoreactive (Z(+)) zones release more glutamate per action potential than CFs in Z(-) zones. CF terminals in Z(+) zones had larger pools of release-ready vesicles, exhibited enhanced multivesicular release, and produced larger synaptic glutamate transients. As a result, CF-mediated EPSCs in Purkinje cells decayed more slowly in Z(+) zones, which triggered longer-duration complex spikes containing a greater number of spikelets. The differences in the duration of CF EPSCs between Z(+) and Z(-) zones persisted in EAAT4 knock-out mice, indicating that EAAT4 is not required for maintaining this aspect of CF function. These results indicate that the organization of the cerebellum into discrete longitudinal zones is defined not only by molecular phenotype of Purkinje cells within zones, but also by the physiological properties of CFs that project to these distinct regions. The enhanced release of glutamate from CFs in Z(+) zones may alter the threshold for synaptic plasticity and prolong inhibition of cerebellar output neurons in deep cerebellar nuclei.

Analysis of cerebellar Purkinje cells using EAAT4 glutamate transporter promoter reporter in mice generated via bacterial artificial chromosome-mediated transgenesis

The EAAT4 glutamate transporter helps regulate excitatory neurotransmission and prevents glutamate-mediated excitotoxicity in the cerebellum. Immunohistochemistry and in situ hybridization have previously defined a cerebellar cell population expressing this protein. These methods, however, are not well suited for evaluating the dynamic regulation of the transporter and its gene-especially in living tissues. To better study EAAT4 expression and regulation, we generated bacterial artificial chromosome (BAC) promoter eGFP reporter transgenic mice. Histological analysis of the transgenic mice revealed that the EAAT4 promoter is active predominantly in Purkinje cells, but can also be modestly detected in other neurons early postnatally. EAAT4 promoter activity was not present in non-neuronal cells. Cerebellar organotypic slice cultures prepared from BAC transgenic mice provided a unique reagent to study transporter and Purkinje cell expression and regulation in living tissue. The correlation of promoter activity to protein expression makes the EAAT4 BAC promoter reporter a valuable tool to study regulation of EAAT4 expression.

Climbing fiber innervation of NG2-expressing glia in the mammalian cerebellum

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.

Climbing fiber activation of EAAT4 transporters and kainate receptors in cerebellar Purkinje cells

Cerebellar Purkinje cells (PCs) express two glutamate transporters, EAAC1 (EAAT3) and EAAT4; however, their relative contribution to the uptake of glutamate at synapses is not known. We found that glutamate transporter currents recorded at climbing fiber (CF)-PC synapses are absent in mice lacking EAAT4 but unchanged in mice lacking EAAC1, indicating that EAAT4 is preferentially involved in clearing glutamate from CF synapses. However, comparison of CF synaptic currents between wild-type and transporter knock-out mice revealed that ionotropic glutamate receptors are responsible for >40% of the current previously attributed to transporters, indicating that PCs remove <10% of the glutamate released by the CF. The receptors responsible for the nontransporter component accounted for 5% of the CF EPSC, had a slower time course and lower occupancy than AMPA receptors at CF synapses, and exhibited pharmacological properties consistent with kainate receptors. In GluR5 knock-out mice, this current was dramatically reduced, indicating that CF excitation of PCs involves two distinct classes of ionotropic glutamate receptors, AMPA receptors and GluR5-containing kainate receptors.