Activation of Extrasynaptic Kainate Receptors Drives Hilar Mossy Cell Activity

Czarina Ramos, Stefano Lutzu, Miwako Yamasaki, Yuchio Yanagawa, Kenji Sakimura, Susumu Tomita, Masahiko Watanabe, Pablo E. Castillo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Mossy cells (MCs) of the dentate gyrus are key components of an excitatory associative circuit established by reciprocal connections with dentate granule cells (GCs). MCs are implicated in place field encoding, pattern separation, and novelty detection, as well as in brain disorders such as temporal lobe epilepsy and depression. Despite their functional relevance, little is known about the determinants that control MC activity. Here, we examined whether MCs express functional kainate receptors (KARs), a subtype of glutamate receptors involved in neuronal development, synaptic transmission, and epilepsy. Using mouse hippocampal slices, we found that bath application of submicromolar and micromolar concentrations of the KAR agonist kainic acid induced inward currents and robust MC firing. These effects were abolished in GluK2 KO mice, indicating the presence of functional GluK2-containing KARs in MCs. In contrast to CA3 pyramidal cells, which are structurally and functionally similar to MCs and express synaptic KARs at mossy fiber (MF) inputs (i.e., GC axons), we found no evidence for KAR-mediated transmission at MF-MC synapses, indicating that most KARs at MCs are extrasynaptic. Immunofluorescence and immunoelectron microscopy analyses confirmed the extrasynaptic localization of GluK2-containing KARs in MCs. Finally, blocking glutamate transporters, a manipulation that increases extracellular levels of endogenous glutamate, was sufficient to induce KAR-mediated inward currents in MCs, suggesting that MC-KARs can be activated by increases in ambient glutamate. Our findings provide the first direct evidence of functional extrasynaptic KARs at a critical excitatory neuron of the hippocampus.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT Hilar mossy cells (MCs) are an understudied population of hippocampal neurons that form an excitatory loop with dentate granule cells. MCs have been implicated in pattern separation, spatial navigation, and epilepsy. Despite their importance in hippocampal function and disease, little is known about how MC activity is recruited. Here, we show for the first time that MCs express extrasynaptic kainate receptors (KARs), a subtype of glutamate receptors critically involved in neuronal function and epilepsy. While we found no evidence for synaptic KARs in MCs, KAR activation induced strong action potential firing of MCs, raising the possibility that extracellular KARs regulate MC excitability in vivo and may also promote dentate gyrus hyperexcitability and epileptogenesis.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2872-2884
Number of pages13
JournalThe Journal of neuroscience : the official journal of the Society for Neuroscience
Issue number14
StatePublished - Apr 6 2022


  • CA3
  • dentate gyrus
  • epilepsy
  • GluK2
  • kainic acid
  • mossy fiber

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)


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