Although glia often envelop synapses, they have traditionally been viewed as passive participants in synaptic function. Recent evidence has demonstrated, however, that there is a dynamic two-way communication between glia and neurons at the synapse. Neurotransmitters released from presynaptic neurons evoke Ca2+ concentration increases in adjacent glia. Activated glia, in turn, release transmitters, including glutamate and ATP. These gliotransmitters feed back onto the presynaptic terminal either to enhance or to depress further release of neurotransmitter. Transmitters released from glia can also directly stimulate postsynaptic neurons, producing either excitatory or inhibitory responses. Based on these new findings, glia should be considered an active partner at the synapse, dynamically regulating synaptic transmission.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
My research is supported by NIH grant EY04077 I thank Paul Ceelen for preparation of illustrations and Janice Gepner, Paul Mermelstein and Monica R. Metea for comments on the manuscript.