Interstitial ions: A key regulator of state-dependent neural activity?
Throughout the nervous system, ion gradients drive fundamental processes. Yet, the roles of interstitial ions in brain functioning is largely forgotten. Emerging literature is now revitalizing this area of neuroscience by showing that interstitial cations (K+, Ca2+ and Mg2+) are not static quantities but change dynamically across states such as sleep and locomotion. In turn, these state-dependent changes are capable of sculpting neuronal activity; for example, changing the local interstitial ion composition in the cortex is sufficient for modulating the prevalence of slow-frequency neuronal oscillations, or potentiating the gain of visually evoked responses. Disturbances in interstitial ionic homeostasis may also play a central role in the pathogenesis of central nervous system diseases. For example, impairments in K+ buffering occur in a number of neurodegenerative diseases, and abnormalities in neuronal activity in disease models disappear when interstitial K+ is normalized. Here we provide an overview of the roles of interstitial ions in physiology and pathology. We propose the brain uses interstitial ion signaling as a global mechanism to coordinate its complex activity patterns, and ion homeostasis failure contributes to central nervous system diseases affecting cognitive functions and behavior.