Studies of the last two decades have demonstrated the presence in astrocytic cell membranes of N
-aspartate (NMDA) receptors (NMDARs), albeit their apparently low abundance makes demonstration of their presence and function more difficult than of other glutamate (Glu) receptor classes residing in astrocytes. Activation of astrocytic NMDARs directly in brain slices and in acutely isolated or cultured astrocytes evokes intracellular calcium increase, by mutually unexclusive ionotropic and metabotropic mechanisms. However, other than one report on the contribution of astrocyte-located NMDARs to astrocyte-dependent modulation of presynaptic strength in the hippocampus, there is no sound evidence for the significant role of astrocytic NMDARs in astrocytic-neuronal interaction in neurotransmission, as yet. Durable exposure of astrocytic and neuronal co-cultures to NMDA has been reported to upregulate astrocytic synthesis of glutathione, and in this way to increase the antioxidative capacity of neurons. On the other hand, overexposure to NMDA decreases, by an as yet unknown mechanism, the ability of cultured astrocytes to express glutamine synthetase (GS), aquaporin-4 (AQP4), and the inward rectifying potassium channel Kir4.1, the three astroglia-specific proteins critical for homeostatic function of astrocytes. The beneficial or detrimental effects of astrocytic NMDAR stimulation revealed in the in vitro studies remain to be proven in the in vivo setting.
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