Glial cells were classically considered as supportive cells that do not contribute to information processing in the nervous system. However, considerable amount of evidence obtained by several groups during the last few years has demonstrated the existence of a bidirectional communication between astrocytes and neurons, which prompted a re-examination of the role of glial cells in the physiology of the nervous system. This review will discuss recent advances in the neuron-to-astrocyte communication, focusing on the recently reported properties of the synaptically evoked astrocyte Ca2+ signal that indicate that astrocytes show integrative properties for synaptic information processing. Indeed, we have recently shown that hippocampal astrocytes discriminate between the activity of different synapses, and respond selectively to different axon pathways. Furthermore, the astrocyte Ca 2+ signal is modulated by the simultaneous activity of different synaptic inputs. This Ca2+ signal modulation depends on cellular intrinsic properties of the astrocytes, is bidirectionally regulated by the level of synaptic activity, and controls the spatial extension of the intracellular Ca2+ signal. Consequently, we propose that astrocytes can be considered as cellular elements involved in information processing by the nervous system.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
We thank Dr. W. Buño for helpful comments on the manuscript. This work was supported by Ministerio de Educación y Ciencia (BFU2004-00448), Spain. GP is a CSIC predoctoral fellow.
- Astrocyte-neuron communication
- Calcium signal modulation
- Glutamate release
- Information processing