Electrophysiological mechanisms of delayed excitotoxicity: Positive feedback loop between NMDA receptor current and depolarization-mediated glutamate release

C. M. Norris, E. M. Blalock, O. Thibault, L. D. Brewer, G. V. Clodfelter, N. M. Porter, P. W. Landfield

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


Delayed excitotoxic neuronal death after insult from exposure to high glutamate concentrations appears important in several CNS disorders. Although delayed excitotoxicity is known to depend on NMDA receptor (NMDAR) activity and Ca2+ elevation, the electrophysiological mechanisms underlying postinsult persistence of NMDAR activation are not well understood. Membrane depolarization and nonspecific cationic current in the postinsult period were reported previously, but were not sensitive to NMDAR antagonists. Here, we analyzed mechanisms of the postinsult period using parallel current- and voltage-clamp recording and Ca2+ imaging in primary hippocampal cultured neurons. We also compared more vulnerable older neurons [about 22 days in vitro (DIV)] to more resistant younger (about 15 DIV) neurons, to identify processes selectively associated with cell death in older neurons. During exposure to a modest glutamate insult (20 μM, 5 min), similar degrees of Ca2+ elevation, membrane depolarization, action potential block, and increased inward current occurred in younger and older neurons. However, after glutamate withdrawal, these processes recovered rapidly in younger but not in older neurons. The latter also exhibited a concurrent postinsult increase in spontaneous miniature excitatory postsynaptic currents, reflecting glutamate release. Importantly, postinsult NMDAR antagonist administration reversed all of these persisting responses in older cells. Conversely, repolarization of the membrane by voltage clamp immediately after glutamate exposure reversed the NMDAR-dependent Ca2+ elevation. Together, these data suggest that, in vulnerable neurons, excitotoxic insult induces a sustained positive feedback loop between NMDAR-dependent current and depolarization-mediated glutamate release, which persists after withdrawal of exogenous glutamate and drives Ca2+ elevation and delayed excitotoxicity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2488-2500
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Neurophysiology
Issue number5
StatePublished - Nov 2006

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience
  • Physiology


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