Modulation of neuronal activity by glial cells in the retina

Eric A. Newman, Kathleen R. Zahs

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332 Scopus citations


Glial-neuronal communication was studied by monitoring the effect of intercellular glial Ca2+ waves on the electrical activity of neighboring neurons in the eyecup preparation of the rat. Calcium waves in astrocytes and Muller cells were initiated with a mechanical stimulus applied to the retinal surface. Changes in the light-evoked spike activity of neurons within the ganglion cell layer occurred when, and only when, these Ca2+ waves reached the neurons. Inhibition of activity was observed in 25 of 53 neurons (mean decrease in spike frequency, 28 ± 2%). Excitation occurred in another five neurons (mean increase, 27 ± 5%). Larger amplitude Ca2+ waves were associated with greater modulation of neuronal activity. Thapsigargin, which reduced the amplitude of the glial Ca2+ increases, also reduced the magnitude of neuronal modulation. Bicuculline and strychnine, inhibitory neurotransmitter antagonists, as well as 6-Nitro-7- sulphamoylbenzo[f]quinoxaline-2,3-dione (NBQX) and D(-)-2-amino-7- phosphonoheptanoic acid (D-AP7), glutamate antagonists, reduced the inhibition of neuronal activity associated with glial Ca2+ waves, suggesting that inhibition is mediated by inhibitory interneurons stimulated by glutamate release from glial cells. The results suggest that glial cells are capable of modulating the electrical activity of neurons within the retina and thus, may directly participate in information processing in the CNS.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4022-4028
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number11
StatePublished - Jun 1 1998


  • Astrocytes
  • Calcium waves
  • Ganglion cells
  • Glial cells
  • Glial-neuronal interaction
  • Modulation
  • Muller cells
  • Neurons
  • Retina


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