Ischemic and excitotoxic events within the brain result in rapid and often unfavorable depletions in neuronal energy levels. Here, we investigated the signaling pathways activated in response to the energetic stress created by transient glutamate excitation in cerebellar granule neurons. We characterized a glucose dependent hyperpolarization of the mitochondrial membrane potential (Δψ m ) in the majority of neurons after transient glutamate excitation. Expression levels of the primary neuronal glucose transporters (GLUTs) isoforms 1,3,4, and 8 were found to be unaltered within a 24 h period after excitation. However, a significant increase only in GLUT3 surface expression was identified 30 min after excitation, with this high surface expression remaining significantly above control levels in many neurons for up to 4 h. Glutamate excitation induced a rapid alteration in the AMP:ATP ratio that was associated with the activation of the AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK). Interestingly, pharmacological activation of AMPK with AICAR (5-aminoimidazole-4-carboxamide riboside) alone also increased GLUT3 surface expression, with a hyperpolarization of Δψ m evident in many neurons. Notably, inhibition of the CaMKK (calmodulin-dependent protein kinase kinase) had little affect on GLUT translocation, whereas the inhibition or knockdown of AMPK (compound C, siRNA) activity prevented GLUT3 translocation to the cell surface after glutamate excitation. Furthermore, gene silencing of GLUT3 eradicated the increase in Δψ m associated with transient glutamate excitation and potently sensitized neurons to excitotoxicity. In summary, our data suggest that the activation of AMPK and its regulation of cell surface GLUT3 expression is critical in mediating neuronal tolerance to excitotoxicity.
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