Differential perturbation of neuronal and glial glutamate transport systems in retinal ischaemia

Nigel L. Barnett*, David V. Pow, Natalie D. Bull

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

49 Citations (Scopus)


Glutamate is the major excitatory neurotransmitter in the retina and is removed from the extracellular space by an energy-dependent process involving neuronal and glial cell transporters. The radial glial Müller cells express the glutamate transporter, GLAST, and preferentially accumulate glutamate. However, during an ischaemic episode, extracellular glutamate concentrations may rise to excitotoxic levels. Is this catastrophic rise in extracellular glutamate due to a failure of GLAST? Using immunocytochemistry, we monitored the transport of the glutamate transporter substrate, D-aspartate, in the retina under normal and ischaemic conditions. Two models of compromised retinal perfusion were compared: (1) Anaesthetised rats had their carotid arteries occluded for 7 days to produce a chronic reduction in retinal blood flow. Retinal function was assessed by electroretinography. D-aspartate was injected into the eye for 45 min. Following euthanasia, the retina was processed for D-aspartate, GLAST and glutamate immunocytochemistry. Although reduced retinal perfusion suppresses the electroretinogram b-wave, neither retinal histology, GLAST expression, nor the ability of Müller cells to uptake D-aspartate is affected. As this insult does not appear to cause excitotoxic neuronal damage, these data suggest that GLAST function and glutamate clearance are maintained during periods of reduced retinal perfusion. (2) Occlusion of the central retinal artery for 60 min abolishes retinal perfusion, inducing histological damage and electroretinogram suppression. Although GLAST expression appears to be normal, its ability to transport D-aspartate into Müller cells is greatly reduced. Interestingly, D-aspartate is transported into neuronal cells, i.e. photoreceptors, bipolar and ganglion cells. This suggests that while GLAST is vitally important for the clearance of excess extracellular glutamate, its capability to sustain inward transport is particularly susceptible to an acute ischaemic attack. Manipulation of GLAST function could alleviate the degeneration and blindness that result from ischaemic retinal disease.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)291-299
Number of pages9
JournalNeurochemistry International
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 15 Sept 2001
Externally publishedYes


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