Astrocytes, a sub-type of glia in the central nervous system, are dynamic signaling elements that integrate neuronal inputs, exhibit calcium excitability, and can modulate neighboring neurons. Neuronal activity can lead to neurotransmitter-evoked activation of astrocytic receptors, which mobilizes their internal calcium. Elevations in astrocytic calcium in turn trigger the release of chemical transmitters from astrocytes, which can cause sustained modulatory actions on neighboring neurons. Astrocytes, and perisynaptic Schwann cells, by virtue of their intimate association with synapses, are strategically positioned to regulate synaptic transmission. This capability, that has now been demonstrated in several studies, raises the untested possibility that astrocytes are an integral element of the circuitry for synaptic plasticity. Because the highest ratio of glia-to-neurons is found at the top of the phylogenetic tree in the human brain, these recent demonstrations of dynamic bi-directional signaling between astrocytes and neurons leave us with the question as to whether astrocytes are key regulatory elements of higher cortical functions.


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  • Article Type: Review Article
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