Astrocytes are important regulatory elements in brain function. They respond to neurotransmitters and release gliotransmitters that modulate synaptic transmission. However, the cell- and synapse-specificity of the functional relationship between astrocytes and neurons in certain brain circuits remains unknown. In the dorsal striatum, which mainly comprises two intermingled subtypes (striatonigral and striatopallidal) of medium spiny neurons (MSNs) and synapses belonging to two neural circuits (the direct and indirect pathways of the basal ganglia), subpopulations of astrocytes selectively responded to specific MSN subtype activity. These subpopulations of astrocytes released glutamate that selectively activated N-methyl-D-aspartate receptors in homotypic, but not heterotypic, MSNs. Likewise, astrocyte subpopulations selectively regulated homotypic synapses through metabotropic glutamate receptor activation. Therefore, bidirectional astrocyte-neuron signaling selectively occurs between specific subpopulations of astrocytes, neurons, and synapses.
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