Mitochondrial membrane potential and glutamate excitotoxicity in cultured cerebellar granule cells

M. W. Ward, A. C. Rego, B. G. Frenguelli, D. G. Nicholls*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

290 Scopus citations


The relationship between changes in mitochondrial membrane potential (Δψ(m)) and the failure of cytoplasmic Ca2+ homeostasis, delayed Ca2+deregulation (DCD), is investigated for cultured rat cerebellar granule cells exposed to glutamate. To interpret the single-cell fluorescence response of cells loaded with tetramethylrhodamine methyl ester (TMRM+) or rhodamine-123, we devised and validated a mathematical simulation with well characterized effectors of Δψ(m) and plasma membrane potential (Δψ(p)). Glutamate usually caused an immediate decrease in Δπ(m) of <10 mV, attributable to Ca2+ accumulation rather than enhanced ATP demand, and these cells continued to generate ATP by oxidative phosphorylation until DCD. Cells for which the mitochondria showed a larger n t a depolarization deregulated more rapidly The mitochondria in a subpopulation of glutamate-exposed cells that failed to extrude Ca2+ that was released from the matrix after protonophore addition were bioenergetically competent. The onset of DCD during continuous glutamate exposure in the presence or absence of oligomycin was associated with a slowly developing mitochondrial depolarization, but cause and effect could not be established readily. In contrast, the slowly developing mitochondrial depolarization after transient NMDA receptor activation occurs before cytoplasmic free Ca2+ ([Ca2+](c)) has risen to the set point at which mitochondria retain Ca2+. In the presence of oligomycin no increase in [Ca2+](c) occurs during this depolarization. We conclude that transient Ca2+ loading of mitochondria as a consequence of NMDA receptor activation initiates oxidative damage to both plasma membrane Ca2+ extrusion pathways and the inhibition of mitochondrial respiration. Depending on experimental conditions, one of these factors becomes rate-limiting and precipitates DCD.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)7208-7219
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number19
StatePublished - Oct 1 2000
Externally publishedYes


  • Delayed calcium deregulation
  • Glutamate excitotoxicity
  • Glutamate receptors
  • Mitochondrial membrane potential
  • Rhodamine-123
  • TMRM

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience


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