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Neurochemical Research

, Volume 40, Issue 2, pp 389–401 | Cite as

Why are Astrocytes Important?

  • Alexei VerkhratskyEmail author
  • Maiken Nedergaard
  • Leif Hertz
Overview

Abstract

Astrocytes, which populate the grey and white mater of the brain and the spinal cord are highly heterogeneous in their morphology and function. These cells are primarily responsible for homeostasis of the central nervous system (CNS). Most central synapses are surrounded by exceedingly thin astroglial perisynaptic processes, which act as “astroglial cradle” critical for genesis, maturation and maintenance of synaptic connectivity. The perisynaptic glial processes are densely packed with numerous transporters, which provide for homeostasis of ions and neurotransmitters in the synaptic cleft, for local metabolic support and for release of astroglial derived scavengers of reactive oxygen species. Through perivascular processes astrocytes contribute to blood–brain barrier and form “glymphatic” drainage system of the CNS. Furthermore astrocytes are indispensible for glutamatergic and γ-aminobutyrate-ergic synaptic transmission being the supplier of neurotransmitters precursor glutamine via an astrocytic/neuronal cycle. Pathogenesis of many neurological disorders, including neuropsychiatric and neurodegenerative diseases is defined by loss of homeostatic function (astroglial asthenia) or remodelling of astroglial homoeostatic capabilities. Astroglial cells further contribute to neuropathologies through mounting complex defensive programme generally known as reactive astrogliosis.

Keywords

Astrocytes Glutamate Astroglial cradle Glymphatic system Astrogliopathology Neurological disorders 

Notes

Acknowledgments

MN research is supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH); AV was supported by the Alzheimer’s Research Trust (UK), by European Commission, by IKERBASQUE and by a research grant of Nizhny Novgorod State University.

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Alexei Verkhratsky
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
    Email author
  • Maiken Nedergaard
    • 4
  • Leif Hertz
    • 5
  1. 1.Faculty of Life SciencesThe University of ManchesterManchesterUK
  2. 2.Achucarro Center for Neuroscience, IKERBASQUEBasque Foundation for ScienceBilbaoSpain
  3. 3.University of Nizhny NovgorodNizhny NovgorodRussia
  4. 4.Division of Glia Disease and Therapeutics, Center for Translational NeuromedicineUniversity of Rochester Medical SchoolRochesterUSA
  5. 5.Laboratory of Brain Metabolic Diseases, Institute of Metabolic Disease Research and Drug DevelopmentChina Medical UniversityShenyangChina

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