Electrical coupling, without dye coupling, between mammalian astrocytes and oligodendrocytes in cell culture

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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)258-266
Journal / PublicationGLIA
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1990
Externally publishedYes


Evidence of electrical and dye coupling between oligodendrocytes and astrocytes was sought in cultures of mouse spinal cord. Cell identity was verified using cell specific antigenic markers. In most experiments current was injected into oligodendrocytes while recording voltage in nearby astrocytes. Nine of 17 oligodendrocyteastrocyte cell pairs showed weak electrical coupling; the average estimated coupling ratio was 0.03 ± 0.06 (cf. 0.11 for oligodendrocyte‐oligodendrocyte and 0.44 for astrocyteastrocyte pairs; Kettenmann and Ransom: Glia, 1: 64–73, 1988). Application of 0.5 mM BaCl2 or 44.6 mM CsCl depolarized astrocytes and oligodendrocytes and was estimated to increase the coupling ratio between these cells 3–5‐fold; these effects were rapid in onset and completely reversible. In 5 of 7 cases, oligodendrocyte‐astrocyte pairs that appeared uncoupled in normal solution exhibited coupling during Ba++ or Cs+ exposure. The actions of these cations are believed to be mediated by blockade of glial K+ channels. Depolarization, per se, as induced by increasing [K+]o, did not increase coupling ratio. The fluorescent dye lucifer yellow (LY) was injected into 10 oligodendrocytes, 8 of which were electrically coupled to nearby astrocytes, and never passed into astrocytes in detectable quantities. Likewise, astrocytes injected with LY stained other astrocytes, but never oligodendrocytes. These findings document the presence of weak electrical coupling between astrocytes and oligodendrocytes, in the absence of dye coupling. Weak coupling of this sort could subserve metabolic interactions between these cells mediated by the passage of small but important molecules such as cyclic AMP, but would not allow strong electrical interactions. If such coupling among glial cells is widespread, it would constitute a “metabolic syncytium” that could serve to coordinate glial behavior. Copyright © 1990 Wiley‐Liss, Inc.

Research Area(s)

  • GAP junctions, Glial cells, Lucifer yellow, Potassium channel blockers