Vesicle-released glutamate is necessary to maintain muscle spindle afferent excitability but not dynamic sensitivity in adult mice

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Journal of Physiology







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Key points: Muscle spindle afferents are slowly adapting low threshold mechanoreceptors that report muscle length and movement information critical for motor control and proprioception. The rapidly adapting cation channel PIEZO2 has been identified as necessary for muscle spindle afferent stretch sensitivity, although the properties of this channel suggest that additional molecular elements are necessary for mediating the complex slowly adapting response of muscle spindle afferents. We report that glutamate increases muscle spindle afferent static sensitivity in an ex vivo mouse muscle nerve preparation, although blocking glutamate packaging into vesicles by the sole vesicular glutamate transporter, VGLUT1, either pharmacologically or by transgenic knockout of one allele of VGLUT1 decreases muscle spindle afferent static but not dynamic sensitivity. Our results confirm that vesicle-released glutamate is an important contributor to maintained muscle spindle afferent excitability and may suggest a therapeutic target for normalizing muscle spindle afferent function. Abstract: Muscle spindle afferents are slowly adapting low threshold mechanoreceptors that have both dynamic and static sensitivity to muscle stretch. The exact mechanism by which these neurons translate muscle movement into action potentials is not well understood, although the PIEZO2 mechanically sensitive cation channel is essential for stretch sensitivity. PIEZO2 is rapidly adapting, suggesting the requirement for additional molecular elements to maintain firing during stretch. Spindle afferent sensory endings contain glutamate-filled synaptic-like vesicles that are released in a stretch- and calcium-dependent manner. Previous work has shown that glutamate can increase and a phospholipase-D coupled metabotropic glutamate antagonist can abolish firing during static stretch. Here, we test the hypothesis that vesicle-released glutamate is necessary for maintaining muscle spindle afferent excitability during static but not dynamic stretch. To test this hypothesis, we used a mouse muscle-nerve ex vivo preparation to measure identified muscle spindle afferent responses to stretch and vibration. In C57BL/6 adult mice, bath applied glutamate significantly increased the firing rate during the plateau phase of stretch but not during the dynamic phase of stretch. Blocking the packaging of glutamate into vesicles by the sole vesicular glutamate transporter, VGLUT1, either with xanthurenic acid or by using a transgenic mouse with only one copy of the VGLUT1 gene (VGLUT1+/–), decreased muscle spindle afferent firing during sustained stretch but not during vibration. Our results suggest a model of mechanotransduction where calcium entering the PIEZO2 channel can cause the release of glutamate from synaptic-like vesicles, which then helps to maintain afferent depolarization and firing.

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National Institutes of Health


glutamate, mechanotransduction, muscle afferent, muscle spindle, sensory physiology


Biological Sciences