, Volume 1, Issue 3, pp 211-217,
Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.
Date: 29 Jul 2005

Regulation of cell-to-cell communication mediated by astrocytic ATP in the CNS


It has become apparent that glial cells, especially astrocytes, not merely supportive but are integrative, being able to receive inputs, assimilate information and send instructive chemical signals to other neighboring cells including neurons. At first, the excitatory neurotransmitter glutamate was found to be a major extracellular messenger that mediates these communications because it can be released from astrocytes in a Ca2+-dependent manner, diffused, and can stimulate extra-synaptic glutamate receptors in adjacent neurons, leading to a dynamic modification of synaptic transmission. However, recently extracellular ATP has come into the limelight as an important extracellular messenger for these communications. Astrocytes express various neurotransmitter receptors including P2 receptors, release ATP in response to various stimuli and respond to extracellular ATP to cause various physiological responses. The intercellular communication “Ca2+ wave” in astrocytes was found to be mainly mediated by the release of ATP and the activation of P2 receptors, suggesting that ATP is a dominant “gliotransmitter” between astrocytes. Because neurons also express various P2 receptors and synapses are surrounded by astrocytes, astrocytic ATP could affect neuronal activities and even dynamically regulate synaptic transmission in adjacent neurons as if forming a “tripartite synapse” In this review, we summarize the role of astrocytic ATP, as compared with glutamate, in gliotransmission and synaptic transmission in neighboring cells, mainly focusing on the hippocampus. Dynamic communication between astrocytes and neurons mediated by ATP would be a key event in the processing or integration of information in the CNS.