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Targeting Glia with N-Acetylcysteine Modulates Brain Glutamate and Behaviors Relevant to Neurodevelopmental Disorders in C57BL/6J Mice

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Alice M S Durieux, Cathy Fernandes, Declan Murphy, Marie Anais Labouesse, Sandra Giovanoli, Urs Meyer, Qi Li, Po-Wah So, Grainne McAlonan

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-9
JournalFrontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience
Issue number343
Early online date14 Dec 2015
Publication statusPublished - 2015


King's Authors


An imbalance between excitatory (E) glutamate and inhibitory (I) GABA transmission may underlie neurodevelopmental conditions such as autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and schizophrenia. This may be direct, through alterations in synaptic genes, but there is increasing evidence for the importance of indirect modulation of E/I balance through glial mechanisms. Here, we used C57BL/6J mice to test the hypothesis that striatal glutamate levels can be shifted by N-acetylcysteine (NAC), which acts at the cystine-glutamate antiporter of glial cells. Striatal glutamate was quantified in vivo using proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy. The effect of NAC on behaviors relevant to ASD was examined in a separate cohort. NAC induced a time-dependent decrease in striatal glutamate, which recapitulated findings of lower striatal glutamate reported in ASD. NAC-treated animals were significantly less active and more anxious in the open field test; and NAC-treated females had significantly impaired prepulse inhibition of startle response. This at least partly mimics greater anxiety and impaired sensorimotor gating reported in neurodevelopmental disorders. Thus glial mechanisms regulate glutamate acutely and have functional consequences even in adulthood. Glial cells may be a potential drug target for the development of new therapies for neurodevelopmental disorders across the life-span.

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