The glycolytic end product lactic acid induced a rapid transient decrease in cytosolic pH in cultured neurons and astrocytes, as measured by microspectrofluorometry using the fluorescent indicator dye 2',7'-bis-(2-carboxyethyl)-5-(and-6) carboxyfluorescein acetoxymethyl ester. Over a physiological range of pH, the initial rate of cellular acidification was a saturable function of the extracellular lactate concentration, suggesting that a saturable transport system mediated lactic acid permeation across the plasma membrane. This transport process displayed stereoselectivity, with a threefold higher rate of intracellular acidification by L-lactic acid than by its D-isomer. Lactic acid-induced acidification occurred in the absence of intracellular ATP, suggesting that transport proceeded independently of the cellular energy charge. These data suggest the existence of a lactic acid carrier in mammalian neuronal and astrocytic plasma membranes, which might serve an acid-scavenging function under conditions of altered pH homeostasis. In the setting of in vivo cerebral ischemia, this carrier may promote the efflux of lactic acid from astrocytes, redistributing it among less metabolically active neurons.
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