Norepinephrine (NE) and glutamate (Glu) initiate intracellular calcium ([Ca2+]i) transients, oscillations, and intracellular [Ca2+]i waves in cultured astrocytes. To further elucidate the significance of NE- and Glu-evoked astrocytic [Ca2+]i signaling to neuron-astrocyte communication in the mature CNS, [Ca2+]i of astrocyte networks within hippocampal slices (P21–42) was measured during bath application of NE and Glu receptor agonists. Astrocytes in stratum radiatum were identified by highly negative membrane potentials (75 +/- 3 mV), absence of action potentials, and dye coupling following intracellular injection of the [Ca2+]-sensitive dye calcium orange. NE (2–100 microM) evoked [Ca2+]i increases (7 of 8 slices, 24 of 24 cells in responding slices) characterized by an initial rise, 20–50 sec to peak, followed by a slower return to baseline (over approximately 8 min). The alpha 1- agonist phenylephrine (PE) (10–100 microM) evoked complex [Ca2+]i signals (22 of 26 slices, 90 of 90 cells in responding slices) composed of both a prolonged component (5.1 +/- 1.8 min), synchronized in neighboring cells, and multiple, mainly asynchronous [Ca2+]i spikes (25.0 +/- 11.6 sec). PE responses were completely blocked by the alpha 1-antagonist prazosin (200 nM, n = 4 slices), but not by the alpha 2- antagonist yohimbine (n = 3 slices). The alpha 2-agonist clonidine (10- 100 microM) did not increase [Ca2+]i (n = 4 slices). alpha 1-mediated [Ca2+]i transients were observed after removal of extracellular [Ca2+]o (n = 8 of 9 slices), indicating PE-induced Ca2+ release from intracellular stores. Adrenergic responses were mediated by alpha 1- receptors localized to astrocytes because PE and NE increased [Ca2+]i of acutely isolated hippocampal astrocytes. Glu (0.75–2.0 mM) did not increase astrocytic [Ca2+]i in slices (0 of 7), even in the presence of the Glu uptake inhibitor L-trans-pyrrollidine-2,4-dicarboxylic acid (PDC) (0 of 5 slices), or in acutely isolated astrocytes (0 of 7 cells). The metabotropic agonist t-ACPD (30 or 50 microM) did not increase astrocytic [Ca2+]i in hippocampal slices (0 of 5), while kainate (200 microM or 1 mM) induced brief (1–2 min) [Ca2+]i increases only rarely (2 of 8 applications in 6 slices). These results support a primary role of NE release and alpha 1-adrenoceptor stimulation in neuron-astrocyte communication in the mature CNS.