In this study we characterized the pharmacological selectivity and physiological actions of a new arylaspartate glutamate transporter blocker, L-threo-beta-benzylaspartate (L-TBA). At concentrations up to 100 mu M, L-TBA did not act as an AMPA receptor (AMPAR) or NMDA receptor (NMDAR) agonist or antagonist when applied to outside-out patches from mouse hippocampal CA1 pyramidal neurons. L-TBA had no effect on the amplitude of field excitatory postsynaptic potentials (fEPSPs) recorded at the Schaffer collateral-CA1 pyramidal cell synapse. Excitatory postsynaptic currents (EPSCs) in CA1 pyramidal neurons were unaffected by L-TBA in the presence of physiological extracellular Mg(2+) concentrations, but in Mg(2+)-free solution, EPSCs were significantly prolonged as a consequence of increased NMDAR activity. Although L-TBA exhibited approximately four-fold selectivity for neuronal EAAT3 over glial EAAT1/EAAT2 transporter subtypes expressed in Xenopus oocytes, the L-TBA concentration-dependence of the EPSC charge transfer increase in the absence of Mg(2+) was the same in hippocampal slices from EAAT3 +/+ and EAAT3 -/- mice, suggesting that TBA effects were primarily due to block of glial transporters. Consistent with this, L-TBA blocked synaptically evoked transporter currents in CA1 astrocytes with a potency in accord with its block of heterologously expressed glial transporters. Extracellular recording in the presence of physiological Mg(2+) revealed that L-TBA prolonged fEPSPs in a frequency-dependent manner by selectively increasing the NMDAR-mediated component of the fEPSP during short bursts of activity. The data indicate that glial glutamate transporters play a dominant role in limiting extrasynaptic transmitter diffusion and binding to NMDARs. Furthermore, NMDAR signaling is primarily limited by voltage-dependent Mg(2+) block during low-frequency activity, while the relative contribution of transport increases during short bursts of higher frequency signaling.
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