In brain ischemia, reduction in oxygen and substrates affects mitochondrial respiratory chain and aerobic metabolism, culminating in ATP production impairment, ionic imbalance, and cell death. The restoration of blood flow and reoxygenation are frequently associated with exacerbation of tissue injury, giving rise to ischemia/reperfusion (I/R) injury. In this setting, the imbalance of brain bioenergetics induces important metabolic adaptations, including utilization of alternative energy sources, such as glutamate. Although glutamate has long been considered as a neurotoxin, it can also be used as intermediary metabolite for ATP synthesis, and both the Na+/Ca2+ exchanger (NCX) and the Na+-dependent excitatory amino-acid transporters (EAATs) are essential in this pathway. Here we analyzed the role of NCX in the potential of glutamate to improve metabolism and survival of neuronal cells subjected to hypoxia/ reoxygenation (H/R). In SH-SY5Y neuroblastoma cells differentiated into a neuron-like state, H/R produced a significant cell damage, a decrease in ATP cellular content, and intracellular Ca2+ alterations. Exposure to glutamate at the onset of the reoxygenation phase attenuated H/R-induced cell damage and evoked a significant raise in intracellular ATP levels. Furthermore, we found that in H/R cells NCX reverse-mode activity was reduced, and that glutamate limited such reduction. All the effects induced by glutamate supplementation were lost when cells were transfected with small interfering RNA against NCX1 and EAAT3, suggesting the need of a specific functional interplay between these proteins for glutamate-induced protection. Collectively, our results revealed the potential beneficial effect of glutamate in an in vitro model of H/R injury and focused on the essential role exerted by NCX1. Although preliminary, these findings could be a starting point to further investigate in in vivo systems such protective effect in ischemic settings, shedding a new light on the classical view of glutamate as detrimental factor.
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