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Papers of the Week

Papers: 1 Apr 2023 - 7 Apr 2023

Basic Science

In Vitro Studies, Molecular/Cellular, Neurobiology


Front Cell Neurosci



Electrically-evoked oscillating calcium transients in mono- and co-cultures of iPSC glia and sensory neurons.


Lawson J, LaVancher E, DeAlmeida M, Black BJ


Activated glia are known to exhibit either neuroprotective or neurodegenerative effects, depending on their phenotype, while participating in chronic pain regulation. Until recently, it has been believed that satellite glial cells and astrocytes are electrically slight and process stimuli only through intracellular calcium flux that triggers downstream signaling mechanisms. Though glia do not exhibit action potentials, they do express both voltage- and ligand-gated ion channels that facilitate measurable calcium transients, a measure of their own phenotypic excitability, and support and modulate sensory neuron excitability through ion buffering and secretion of excitatory or inhibitory neuropeptides (i.e., paracrine signaling). We recently developed a model of acute and chronic nociception using co-cultures of iPSC sensory neurons (SN) and spinal astrocytes on microelectrode arrays (MEAs). Until recently, only neuronal extracellular activity has been recorded using MEAs with a high signal-to-noise ratio and in a non-invasive manner. Unfortunately, this method has limited compatibility with simultaneous calcium transient imaging techniques, which is the most common method for monitoring the phenotypic activity of astrocytes. Moreover, both dye-based and genetically encoded calcium indicator imaging rely on calcium chelation, affecting the culture’s long-term physiology. Therefore, it would be ideal to allow continuous and simultaneous direct phenotypic monitoring of both SNs and astrocytes in a high-to-moderate throughput non-invasive manner and would significantly advance the field of electrophysiology. Here, we characterize astrocytic oscillating calcium transients (OCaTs) in mono- and co-cultures of iPSC astrocytes as well as iPSC SN-astrocyte co-cultures on 48 well plate MEAs. We demonstrate that astrocytes exhibit OCaTs in an electrical stimulus amplitude- and duration-dependent manner. We show that OCaTs can be pharmacologically inhibited with the gap junction antagonist, carbenoxolone (100 μM). Most importantly, we demonstrate that both neurons and glia can be phenotypically characterized in real time, repeatedly, over the duration of the culture. In total, our findings suggest that calcium transients in glial populations may serve as a stand-alone or supplemental screening technique for identifying potential analgesics or compounds targeting other glia-mediated pathologies.