Tripartite Synapses: Glia, the Unacknowledged Partner

Trends Neurosci. 1999 May;22(5):208-15. doi: 10.1016/s0166-2236(98)01349-6.

Abstract

According to the classical view of the nervous system, the numerically superior glial cells have inferior roles in that they provide an ideal environment for neuronal-cell function. However, there is a wave of new information suggesting that glia are intimately involved in the active control of neuronal activity and synaptic neurotransmission. Recent evidence shows that glia respond to neuronal activity with an elevation of their internal Ca2+ concentration, which triggers the release of chemical transmitters from glia themselves and, in turn, causes feedback regulation of neuronal activity and synaptic strength. In view of these new insights, this article suggests that perisynaptic Schwann cells and synaptically associated astrocytes should be viewed as integral modulatory elements of tripartite synapses.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Nervous System Physiological Phenomena*
  • Neuroglia / cytology
  • Neuroglia / physiology*
  • Synapses / physiology*
  • Synaptic Transmission / physiology*