Maturation of astrocyte morphology and the establishment of astrocyte domains during postnatal hippocampal development

Int J Dev Neurosci. 2004 Apr;22(2):73-86. doi: 10.1016/j.ijdevneu.2003.12.008.


Mature protoplasmic astrocytes exhibit an extremely dense ramification of fine processes, yielding a 'spongiform' morphology. This complex morphology enables protoplasmic astrocytes to maintain intimate relationships with many elements of the brain parenchyma, most notably synapses. Recently, it has been demonstrated that astrocytes establish individual cellular-level domains within the neuropil, with limited overlap occurring between the extents of neighboring astrocytes. The highly ramified nature of protoplasmic astrocytes is closely associated with their ability to create such domains. This study was an attempt to characterize the development of spongiform processes and the establishment of astrocyte domains. A combination of immunolabeling for the astrocyte-specific markers glial fibrillary acidic protein and S100beta with intracellular dye labeling in fixed tissue slices allowed for the identification of immature astrocytes and the elucidation of their complete, well-preserved morphologies. We find that during the first two postnatal weeks astrocytes extend stringy, filopodial processes. Fine, spongiform processes appear during the third week. Protoplasmic astrocytes are quite heterogeneous in morphology at 1-week postnatum, but there is a remarkable consistency in morphology by 2 weeks of age. Finally, protoplasmic astrocytes initially extend long, overlapping processes during the first two postnatal weeks. The subsequent elaboration of spongiform processes results in the development of boundaries between neighboring astrocyte domains. Stray processes that encroach on neighboring domains are eventually pruned by 1 month of age. These observations suggest that domain formation is largely the consequence of competition between astrocyte processes, similar to the well-studied competitive interactions between certain neuronal dendritic fields.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Animals, Newborn
  • Astrocytes / cytology*
  • Astrocytes / physiology
  • Cell Differentiation / physiology*
  • Cell Size / physiology
  • Dendrites / physiology
  • Dendrites / ultrastructure
  • Fluorescent Dyes
  • Glial Fibrillary Acidic Protein / metabolism
  • Hippocampus / cytology*
  • Hippocampus / growth & development*
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • In Vitro Techniques
  • Neuropil / cytology*
  • Neuropil / physiology
  • Presynaptic Terminals / physiology
  • Presynaptic Terminals / ultrastructure
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • S100 Proteins / metabolism


  • Fluorescent Dyes
  • Glial Fibrillary Acidic Protein
  • S100 Proteins
  • S100A1 protein