Striatal spiny neurons are selectively vulnerable in Huntington's disease (HD) and ischemia, whereas large aspiny (LA) cholinergic interneurons of the striatum are spared in these pathological conditions. We have investigated whether a different sensitivity to ionotropic glutamatergic agonists might account for this differential vulnerability. Intracellular recordings were obtained from morphologically identified striatal spiny neurons and LA cholinergic interneurons by using a rat brain slice preparation. The two striatal neuronal subtypes had strikingly different intrinsic membrane properties. Both subtypes responded to cortical stimulation with excitatory postsynaptic potentials: these potentials, however, had a different time course and pharmacology in the two classes of cells. Interestingly, membrane depolarizations and inward currents produced by exogenous glutamate receptor agonists (AMPA, kainate, and NMDA) were remarkably larger in spiny neurons than in LA interneurons. Moreover, concentrations of agonists producing reversible membrane changes in LA interneurons caused irreversible depolarizations in spiny cells. Our data suggest that the different physiological responses induced by the activation of ionotropic glutamate receptors may account for the cell type-specific vulnerability of striatal neurons in ischemia and HD.
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