Glutamate transporter control of ambient glutamate levels

Weinan Sun, Denis Shchepakin, Leonid V. Kalachev, Michael P. Kavanaugh

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


Accurate knowledge of the ambient extracellular glutamate concentration in brain is required for understanding its potential impacts on tonic and phasic receptor signaling. Estimates of ambient glutamate based on microdialysis measurements are generally in the range of ∼2-10 μM, approximately 100-fold higher than estimates based on electrophysiological measurements of tonic NMDA receptor activity (∼25-90 nM). The latter estimates are closer to the low nanomolar estimated thermodynamic limit of glutamate transporters. The reasons for this discrepancy are not known, but it has been suggested that microdialysis measurements could overestimate ambient extracellular glutamate because of reduced glutamate transporter activity in a region of metabolically impaired neuropil adjacent to the dialysis probe. We explored this issue by measuring diffusion gradients created by varying membrane densities of glutamate transporters expressed in Xenopus oocytes. With free diffusion from a pseudo-infinite 10 μM glutamate source, the surface concentration of glutamate depended on transporter density and was reduced over 2 orders of magnitude by transporters expressed at membrane densities similar to those previously reported in hippocampus. We created a diffusion model to simulate the effect of transport impairment on microdialysis measurements with boundary conditions corresponding to a 100 μm radius probe. A gradient of metabolic disruption in a thin (∼100 μm) region of neuropil adjacent to the probe increased predicted [Glu] in the dialysate over 100-fold. The results provide support for electrophysiological estimates of submicromolar ambient extracellular [Glu] in brain and provide a possible explanation for the higher values reported using microdialysis approaches.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)146-151
Number of pages6
JournalNeurochemistry International
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jul 2014


  • Ambient neurotransmitter
  • Glutamate transport
  • Microdialysis
  • Tonic signaling


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