Inflammation attenuates gap junction (GJ) communication in cultured astrocytes. Here we used a well-characterized model of experimental brain abscess as a tool to query effects of the CNS inflammatory milieu on astrocyte GJ communication and electrophysiological properties. Whole-cell patch-clamp recordings were performed on green fluorescent protein (GFP)-positive astrocytes in acute brain slices from glial fibrillary acidic protein-GFP mice at 3 or 7 d after Staphylococcus aureus infection in the striatum. Astrocyte GJ communication was significantly attenuated in regions immediately surrounding the abscess margins and progressively increased to levels typical of uninfected brain with increasing distance from the abscess proper. Conversely, astrocytes bordering the abscess demonstrated hemichannel activity as evident by enhanced ethidium bromide (EtBr) uptake that could be blocked by several pharmacological inhibitors, including the connexin 43 (Cx43) mimetic peptide Gap26, carbenoxolone, the pannexin1 (Panx1) mimetic peptide 10Panx1, and probenecid. However, hemichannel opening was transient with astrocytic EtBr uptake observed near the abscess at day 3 but not day 7 after infection. The region-dependent pattern of hemichannel activity at day 3 directly correlated with increases in Cx43, Cx30, Panx1, and glutamate transporter expression (glial L-glutamate transporter and L-glutamate/L-aspartate transporter) along the abscess margins. Changes in astrocyte resting membrane potential and input conductance correlated with the observed changes in GJ communication and hemichannel activity. Collectively, these findings indicate that astrocyte coupling and electrical properties are most dramatically affected near the primary inflammatory site and reveal an opposing relationship between the open states of GJ channels versus hemichannels during acute infection. This relationship may extend to other CNS diseases typified with an inflammatory component.
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