Ion channels in glial cells

Brain Res Brain Res Rev. 2000 Apr;32(2-3):380-412. doi: 10.1016/s0165-0173(99)00093-4.


Functional and molecular analysis of glial voltage- and ligand-gated ion channels underwent tremendous boost over the last 15 years. The traditional image of the glial cell as a passive, structural element of the nervous system was transformed into the concept of a plastic cell, capable of expressing a large variety of ion channels and neurotransmitter receptors. These molecules might enable glial cells to sense neuronal activity and to integrate it within glial networks, e.g., by means of spreading calcium waves. In this review we shall give a comprehensive summary of the main functional properties of ion channels and ionotropic receptors expressed by macroglial cells, i.e., by astrocytes, oligodendrocytes and Schwann cells. In particular we will discuss in detail glial sodium, potassium and anion channels, as well as glutamate, GABA and ATP activated ionotropic receptors. A majority of available data was obtained from primary cell culture, these results have been compared with corresponding studies that used acute tissue slices or freshly isolated cells. In view of these data, an active glial participation in information processing seems increasingly likely and a physiological role for some of the glial channels and receptors is gradually emerging.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Ion Channels / metabolism*
  • Ion Channels / physiology
  • Neuroglia / metabolism*
  • Neuroglia / physiology


  • Ion Channels