Genetic Disruption of System xc-Mediated Glutamate Release from Astrocytes Increases Negative-Outcome Behaviors While Preserving Basic Brain Function in Rat

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Society for Neuroscience

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Journal of Neuroscience

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DOI: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.1525-22.2023


The importance of neuronal glutamate to synaptic transmission throughout the brain illustrates the immense therapeutic potential and safety risks of targeting this system. Astrocytes also release glutamate, the clinical relevance of which is unknown as the range of brain functions reliant on signaling from these cells hasn't been fully established. Here, we investigated system xc- (Sxc), which is a glutamate release mechanism with an in vivo rodent expression pattern that is restricted to astrocytes. As most animals do not express Sxc, we first compared the expression and sequence of the obligatory Sxc subunit xCT among major classes of vertebrate species. We found xCT to be ubiquitously expressed and under significant negative selective pressure. Hence, Sxc likely confers important advantages to vertebrate brain function that may promote biological fitness. Next, we assessed brain function in male genetically modified rats (MSxc) created to eliminate Sxc activity. Unlike other glutamatergic mechanisms, eliminating Sxc activity was not lethal and didn't alter growth patterns, telemetry measures of basic health, locomotor activity, or behaviors reliant on simple learning. However, MSxc rats exhibited deficits in tasks used to assess cognitive behavioral control. In a pavlovian conditioned approach, MSxc rats approached a food-predicted cue more frequently than WT rats, even when this response was punished. In attentional set shifting, MSxc rats displayed cognitive inflexibility because of an increased frequency of perseverative errors. MSxc rats also displayed heightened cocaine-primed drug seeking. Hence, a loss of Sxc-activity appears to weaken control over nonreinforced or negative-outcome behaviors without altering basic brain function.


Journal of Neuroscience, Vol. 43, No. 13 (March 2023): 2349-2361. DOI.