New roles for astrocytes: redefining the functional architecture of the brain

Trends Neurosci. 2003 Oct;26(10):523-30. doi: 10.1016/j.tins.2003.08.008.


Astrocytes have traditionally been considered ancillary, satellite cells of the nervous system. However, work over the past decade has revealed that they interact with the vasculature to form a gliovascular network that might organize not only the structural architecture of the brain but also its communication pathways, activation, thresholds and plasticity. The net effect is that astroglia demarcate gray matter regions, both cortical and subcortical, into functional compartments whose internal activation thresholds and external outputs are regulated by single glial cells. The array of these astrocyte-delimited microdomains along the capillary microvasculature allows the formation of higher-order gliovascular units, which serve to match local neural activity and blood flow while regulating neuronal firing thresholds through coordinative glial signaling. By these means, astrocytes might establish the functional as well as the structural architecture of the adult brain.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Astrocytes / metabolism
  • Astrocytes / physiology*
  • Blood Vessels / anatomy & histology
  • Blood Vessels / physiology*
  • Brain / anatomy & histology
  • Brain / blood supply
  • Brain / growth & development
  • Brain / metabolism
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Calcium Signaling
  • Cell Communication
  • Endothelial Cells / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Neurons / metabolism