Aquaporin-4 (AQP4) is a primary influx route for water during brain edema formation. Here, we provide evidence that brain swelling triggers Ca(2+) signaling in astrocytes and that deletion of the Aqp4 gene markedly interferes with these events. Using in vivo two-photon imaging, we show that hypoosmotic stress (20% reduction in osmolarity) initiates astrocytic Ca(2+) spikes and that deletion of Aqp4 reduces these signals. The Ca(2+) signals are partly dependent on activation of P2 purinergic receptors, which was judged from the effects of appropriate antagonists applied to cortical slices. Supporting the involvement of purinergic signaling, osmotic stress was found to induce ATP release from cultured astrocytes in an AQP4-dependent manner. Our results suggest that AQP4 not only serves as an influx route for water but also is critical for initiating downstream signaling events that may affect and potentially exacerbate the pathological outcome in clinical conditions associated with brain edema.
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