Taurine Release by Astrocytes Modulates Osmosensitive Glycine Receptor Tone and Excitability in the Adult Supraoptic Nucleus

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Cells can release the free amino acid taurine through volume-regulated anion channels (VRACs), and it has been hypothesized that taurine released from glial cells is capable of inhibiting action potential (AP) firing by activating neuronal glycine receptors (GlyRs) (Hussy et al., 1997). Although an inhibitory GlyR tone is widely observed in the brain, it remains unknown whether this specifically reflects gliotransmission because most neurons also express VRACs and other endogenous molecules can activate GlyRs. We found that VRACs are absent in neurons of the rat supraoptic nucleus (SON), suggesting that glial cells are the exclusive source of taurine in this nucleus. Application of strychnine to rat hypothalamic explants caused a depolarization of SON neurons associated with a decrease of chloride conductance and could excite these cells in the absence of fast synaptic transmission. This inhibitory GlyR tone was eliminated by pharmacological blockade of VRACs, by cellular taurine depletion, by metabolic inactivation of glia with fluorocitrate, and after retraction of astrocytic processes that intercalate neuronal somata and dendrites. Finally, GlyR tone varied inversely with extracellular fluid tonicity to mediate the osmotic control of AP firing by SON neurons. These findings establish taurine as a physiological gliotransmitter and show that gliotransmission is a spatially constrained process that can be modulated by the morphological rearrangement of astrocytes.