Maintenance of the ionic and osmotic composition of the extracellular fluid (ECF) is essential for the optimal functioning of the central nervous system (CNS). Changes in ion and neurotransmitter levels in the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) can have profound effects on the processing and transmission of neuronal signals. Cell swelling during correction of isotonic imbalances can produce a series of events leading to inappropriate release of excitatory amino acids (EAA). Given the osmoregulatory demands of the CNS, it is not surprising that it possesses well-developed osmoregulatory mechanisms capable of maintaining both extracellular and intracellular ionic composition and volume within narrow limits, despite large fluctuations in the ionic composition and osmolarity of the plasma. We have undertaken a series of studies to test the hypothesis that ethanol (EtOH) acts as an osmotic stressor and stimulates osmoregulatory processes in astrocytes. In the course of these studies, we have investigated the effects of acute and chronic exposure to EtOH on cell volume, as well as uptake and release of amino acids in neonatal rat primary astrocyte cultures.
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