Contribution of astrocytes to activity-dependent structural plasticity in the adult brain

Adv Exp Med Biol. 1999;468:175-82. doi: 10.1007/978-1-4615-4685-6_14.


A striking example of the capacity of adult astrocytes to undergo reversible morphological changes in response to stimuli which enhance neuronal activity is offered by astrocytes of the adult hypothalamo-neurohypophysial system (HNS). The HNS is composed of magnocellular neurons secreting the neurohormones oxytocin and vasopressin from axon terminals in the neurohypophysis. Upon activation of HNS secretion, glial coverage of oxytocin neurons significantly diminishes and their surfaces become extensively juxtaposed. These glial changes are invariably accompanied by structural synaptic remodelling resulting in increased numbers of GABAergic, glutamatergic, and noradrenergic afferents. In the neurohypophysis, they result in an enhanced neurohemal contact area. HNS glia in the adult continue to display "embryonic" features that may allow such activity-dependent structural plasticity. For example, supraoptic astrocytes display a radial glia-like morphology and continue to express vimentin, together with GFAP. All HNS astrocytes secrete extracellular matrix glycoproteins, like tenascin-C; they also express high levels of polysialylated NCAM or PSA-NCAM and the glycoprotein F3, molecules considered essential for neuronal-glial interactions in the developing and lesioned CNS. HNS expression of most of these proteins does not visibly vary under different conditions of neurohormone secretion. We consider them as permissive factors, therefore, allowing HNS cells to undergo remodeling whenever the proper stimuli intervene. In the hypothalamic nuclei, one such stimulus is oxytocin itself which, in synergy with steroids, can induce neuronal-glial remodelling; adrenaline does so in the neurohypophysis.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Astrocytes / physiology*
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Hypothalamo-Hypophyseal System / physiology
  • Neuroglia / physiology
  • Neuronal Plasticity*
  • Neurons / physiology