P301L tau expression affects glutamate release and clearance in the hippocampal trisynaptic pathway

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Individuals at risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease (AD) often exhibit hippocampal hyperexcitability. A growing body of evidence suggests perturbations in the glutamatergic tripartite synapse may underlie this hyperexcitability. Here, we used a tau mouse model of AD (rTg(TauP301L)4510) to examine the effects of tau pathology on hippocampal glutamate regulation. We found a 40% increase in hippocampal vGLUT, which packages glutamate into vesicles, and has previously been shown to influence glutamate release, and a 40% decrease in hippocampal GLT-1, the major glutamate transporter responsible for removing glutamate from the extracellular space. To determine whether these alterations affected glutamate regulation in vivo, we measured tonic glutamate levels, potassium-evoked glutamate release, and glutamate uptake/clearance in the dentate gyrus (DG), CA3, and CA1 regions of the hippocampus. P301L tau expression resulted in a 4- and 7-fold increase in potassium-evoked glutamate release in the DG and CA3, respectively, and significantly decreased glutamate clearance in all 3 regions. Both release and clearance correlated with memory performance in the hippocampal-dependent Barnes maze task. Alterations in mice expressing P301L were observed at a time when tau pathology was subtle and before readily detectable neuron loss. These data suggest novel mechanisms by which tau may mediate hyperexcitability.