Accumulating evidence has demonstrated the existence of bidirectional communication between glial cells and neurons, indicating an important active role of glia in the physiology of the nervous system. Neurotransmitters released by presynaptic terminals during synaptic activity increase intracellular Ca2+ concentration in adjacent glial cells. In turn, activated glia may release different transmitters that can feed back to neuronal synaptic elements, regulating the postsynaptic neuronal excitability and modulating neurotransmitter release from presynaptic terminals. As a consequence of this evidence, a new concept of the synaptic physiology, the tripartite synapse, has been proposed, in which glial cells play an active role as dynamic regulatory elements in neurotransmission. In the present article we review evidence showing the ability of astrocytes to modulate synaptic transmission directly, with the focus on studies performed on cell culture preparations, which have been proved extremely useful in the characterization of molecular and cellular processes involved in astrocyte-mediated neuromodulation.
- Intracellular calcium
- Neurotransmitter release