Tight Coupling of Astrocyte pH Dynamics to Epileptiform Activity Revealed by Genetically Encoded pH Sensors
Astrocytes can both sense and shape the evolution of neuronal network activity and are known to possess unique ion regulatory mechanisms. Here we explore the relationship between astrocytic intracellular pH dynamics and the synchronous network activity that occurs during seizure-like activity. By combining confocal and two-photon imaging of genetically encoded pH reporters with simultaneous electrophysiological recordings, we perform pH measurements in defined cell populations and relate these to ongoing network activity. This approach reveals marked differences in the intracellular pH dynamics between hippocampal astrocytes and neighboring pyramidal neurons in rodent in vitro models of epilepsy. With three different genetically encoded pH reporters, astrocytes are observed to alkalinize during epileptiform activity, whereas neurons are observed to acidify. In addition to the direction of pH change, the kinetics of epileptiform-associated intracellular pH transients are found to differ between the two cell types, with astrocytes displaying significantly more rapid changes in pH. The astrocytic alkalinization is shown to be highly correlated with astrocytic membrane potential changes during seizure-like events and mediated by an electrogenic Na+/HCO3- cotransporter. Finally, comparisons across different cell-pair combinations reveal that astrocytic pH dynamics are more closely related to network activity than are neuronal pH dynamics. This work demonstrates that astrocytes exhibit distinct pH dynamics during periods of epileptiform activity, which has relevance to multiple processes including neurometabolic coupling and the control of network excitability.