The role of transporters in shaping the glutamate concentration in the extracellular space after synaptic release is controversial because of their slow cycling and because diffusion alone gives a rapid removal. The transporter densities have been measured electrophysiologically, but these data are from immature brains and do not give precise information on the concentrations of the individual transporter subtypes. Here we show by quantitative immunoblotting that the numbers of the astroglial glutamate transporters GLAST (EAAT1) and GLT (EAAT2) are 3200 and 12,000 per micrometer3 tissue in the stratum radiatum of adult rat hippocampus (CA1) and 18,000 and 2800 in the cerebellar molecular layer, respectively. The total astroglial cell surface is 1.4 and 3.8 m2/cm3 in the two regions, respectively, implying average densities of GLAST and GLT molecules in the membranes around 2300 and 8500 micrometer-2 in the former and 4700 and 740 micrometer-2 in the latter region. The total concentration of glial glutamate transporters in both regions corresponds to three to five times the estimated number of glutamate molecules in one synaptic vesicle from each of all glutamatergic synapses. However, the role of glial glutamate transporters in limiting synaptic spillover is likely to vary between the two regions because of differences in the distribution of astroglia. Synapses are completely ensheathed and separated from each other by astroglia in the cerebellar molecular layer. In contrast, synapses in hippocampus (stratum radiatum) are only contacted by astroglia and are often found side by side without intervening glial processes.
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