After injury to the CNS, the accumulation of extracellular glutamate induces neuronal excitotoxicity, leading to secondary tissue damage. Astrocytes can reduce excess extracellular glutamate primarily through the astrocytic glutamate transporter-1 and the Na+-dependent glutamate/aspartate transporter (GLAST). In this study, we used an in vitro model of cadmium-induced cellular stress and found that glutamate uptake activity of astrocytes was suppressed because of cadmium-induced inhibition of GLAST expression. The blockage of cadmium-triggered Ca2+ influx by Ca2+ chelators elevated GLAST transcription and glutamate uptake activity in astrocytes, suggesting that the suppression of GLAST expression in cadmium-treated astrocytes was Ca2+-dependent. This was supported by the findings showing the reduction of GLAST mRNA in astrocytes after treatment with Ca2+-ionophore A23187. Cadmium reduced human GLAST promoter activity; however, it increased the binding of Ca2+-sensitive activator protein-1 (AP-1) and cAMP response element binding protein (CREB) to their specific elements derived from the human GLAST promoter. These results demonstrate that AP-1 and CREB may be coupled with Ca2+-dependent pathway triggered by cadmium to mediate the inhibition of GLAST transcription. Our results suggest that Ca2+ influx into astrocytes after CNS injury could cause the down-regulation of GLAST expression, thus reducing the astrocytic glutamate uptake function, which in turn may exacerbate secondary damage after CNS injury.
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