- BackgroundIt has been well accepted that glial cells in the central nervous system (CNS) produce nitric oxide (NO) through the induction of a nitric oxide synthase isoform (NOS2) only in response to various insults. Recently we described rapid astroglial, NOS2-dependent, NO production in the neocortex of healthy mice on a time scale relevant to neuronal activity. To explore a possible role for astroglial NOS2 in normal brain function we investigated a NOS2 knockout mouse (B6;129P2-Nos2(tm1Lau)/J, Jackson Laboratory). Previous studies of this mouse strain revealed mainly altered immune responses, but no compensatory pathways and no CNS abnormalities have been reported.Methodology/principal findingsTo our surprise, using NO imaging in brain slices in combination with biochemical methods we uncovered robust NO production by neocortical astrocytes of the NOS2 mutant. These findings indicate the existence of an alternative pathway that increases basal NOS activity. In addition, the astroglial mutation instigated modifications of neuronal attributes, shown by changes in the membrane properties of pyramidal neurons, and revealed in distinct behavioral abnormalities characterized by an increase in stress-related parameters.Conclusions/significanceThe results strongly indicate the involvement of astrocytic-derived NO in modifying the activity of neuronal networks. In addition, the findings corroborate data linking NO signaling with stress-related behavior, and highlight the potential use of this genetic model for studies of stress-susceptibility. Lastly, our results beg re-examination of previous studies that used this mouse strain to examine the pathophysiology of brain insults, assuming lack of astrocytic nitrosative reaction.