By releasing glutamate, astrocytes actively regulate synaptic transmission and contribute to excitotoxicity in neurological diseases. However, the mechanisms of astrocytic glutamate release have been debated. Here, we report non-vesicular release of glutamate through the glutamate-permeable volume-regulated anion channel (VRAC). Both cell swelling and receptor stimulation activated astrocytic VRAC, which requires its only obligatory subunit, Swell1. Astrocyte-specific Swell1 knockout mice exhibited impaired glutamatergic transmission due to the decreases in presynaptic release probability and ambient glutamate level. Consistently, the mutant mice displayed hippocampal-dependent learning and memory deficits. During pathological cell swelling, deletion of astrocytic Swell1 attenuated glutamate-dependent neuronal excitability and protected mice from brain damage after ischemic stroke. Our identification of a new molecular mechanism for channel-mediated glutamate release establishes a role for astrocyte-neuron interactions in both synaptic transmission and brain ischemia. It provides a rationale for targeting VRAC for the treatment of stroke and other neurological diseases associated with excitotoxicity. Whether and how astrocytes release glutamate to regulate neuronal function are debated. Yang et al. show that Swell1 volume-regulated anion channel is a glutamate-releasing channel in astrocytes, which regulates basal synaptic transmission and contributes to excitotoxicity in ischemic stroke.
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