Invited Review

Pflügers Archiv - European Journal of Physiology

, Volume 466, Issue 10, pp 1859-1872

First online:

Purinergic neuron-glia interactions in sensory systems

  • Christian LohrAffiliated withDivision of Neurophysiology, Biocenter Grindel, University of Hamburg Email author 
  • , Antje GroscheAffiliated withInstitute of Human Genetics, Faculty of Medicine, University of Regensburg Email author 
  • , Andreas ReichenbachAffiliated withPaul Flechsig Institute of Brain Research, Faculty of Medicine, University of Leipzig
  • , Daniela HirnetAffiliated withDivision of Neurophysiology, Biocenter Grindel, University of Hamburg

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The purine adenosine 5′-triphosphate (ATP) and its breakdown products, ADP and adenosine, act as intercellular messenger molecules throughout the nervous system. While ATP contributes to fast synaptic transmission via activation of ionotropic P2X receptors as well as neuromodulation via metabotropic P2Y receptors, ADP and adenosine only stimulate P2Y and P1 receptors, respectively, thereby adjusting neuronal performance. Often glial cells are recipient as well as source for extracellular ATP. Hence, purinergic neuron-glia signalling contributes bidirectionally to information processing in the nervous system, including sensory organs and brain areas computing sensory information. In this review, we summarize recent data of purinergic neuron-glia communication in two sensory systems, the visual and the olfactory systems. In both retina and olfactory bulb, ATP is released by neurons and evokes Ca2+ transients in glial cells, viz. Müller cells, astrocytes and olfactory ensheathing cells. Glial Ca2+ signalling, in turn, affects homeostasis of the nervous tissue such as volume regulation and control of blood flow. In addition, ‘gliotransmitter’ release upon Ca2+ signalling—evoked by purinoceptor activation—modulates neuronal activity, thus contributing to the processing of sensory information.


ATP Adenosine Purinoceptors Retina Olfactory bulb Müller cells Ensheathing cells Astrocytes