Astroglial cells are the most abundant cells in the mammalian central nervous system (CNS), yet our knowledge about their function in health and disease has been limited. This review focuses on the recent work addressing the function of intermediate filaments in astroglial cells under severe mechanical or osmotic stress, in hypoxia, and in brain and spinal cord injury. Recent data show that when astrocyte intermediate filaments are genetically ablated in mice, reactive gliosis is attenuated and the course of several CNS pathologies is altered, while the signs of CNS regeneration become more prominent. GFAP is the principal astrocyte intermediate filament protein and dominant mutations in the GFAP gene have been shown to lead to Alexander disease, a fatal neurodegenerative condition in humans.
Copyright (c) 2004 Pathological Society of Great Britain and Ireland.