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Empirical research in the last decade revealed that astrocytes can respond to neurotransmitters with Ca2+ elevations and generate feedback signals to neurons which modulate synaptic transmission and neuronal excitability. This discovery changed our basic understanding of brain function and provided new perspectives for how astrocytes can participate not only to information processing, but also to the genesis of brain disorders, such as epilepsy. Epilepsy is a neurological disorder characterized by recurrent seizures that can arise focally at restricted areas and propagate throughout the brain. Studies in brain slice models suggest that astrocytes contribute to epileptiform activity by increasing neuronal excitability through a Ca2+-dependent release of glutamate. The underlying mechanism remains, however, unclear. In this study, we implemented a parsimonious network model of neurons and astrocytes. The model consists of excitatory and inhibitory neurons described by Izhikevich’s neuron dynamics. The experimentally observed Ca2+ change in astrocytes in response to neuronal activity was modeled with linear equations. We considered that glutamate is released from astrocytes above certain intracellular Ca2+ concentrations thus providing a non-linear positive feedback signal to neurons. Propagating seizure-like ictal discharges (IDs) were reliably evoked in our computational model by repeatedly exciting a small area of the network, which replicates experimental results in a slice model of focal ID in entorhinal cortex. We found that the threshold of focal ID generation was lowered when an excitatory feedback-loop between astrocytes and neurons was included. Simulations show that astrocytes can contribute to ID generation by directly affecting the excitatory/inhibitory balance of the neuronal network. Our model can be used to obtain mechanistic insights into the distinct contributions of the different signaling pathways to the generation and propagation of focal IDs.


This article was originally published in Frontiers in Computational Neuroscience, available at DOI: 10.3389/fncom.2012.00081.

This is an open- access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License 3.0 (CC BY 3.0), which permits use, distribution and reproduction in other forums, provided the original authors and source are credited and subject to any copy- right notices concerning any third-party graphics etc.



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