Astrocytic control of glutamatergic activity: astrocytes as stars of the show

Trends Neurosci. 2004 Dec;27(12):735-43. doi: 10.1016/j.tins.2004.10.008.


It is a major recent finding that astrocytes can influence synaptic activity by release of glutamate, but many other glutamate-mediated activities are also controlled by astrocytes. Even the most obvious neuronal function of glutamate - its release as a transmitter - is regulated by astrocytes; these cells are needed for formation of precursors for glutamate synthesis, for reuptake of released transmitter, and for disposal of excess glutamate. Without astrocytic involvement, normal function of glutamatergic neurons is not possible, as exemplified by almost instantaneous abrogation of normal vision and learning upon inhibition of astrocyte-specific metabolic pathways. In addition, astrocytes are essential for production of the neuroprotectant glutathione, yet they can also contribute to neuronal death during ischemia by maintaining glutamine synthesis, enabling neuronal formation of neurotoxic glutamate.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Astrocytes / metabolism*
  • Glucose / metabolism
  • Glutamate-Ammonia Ligase / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Glutamate-Ammonia Ligase / metabolism
  • Glutamic Acid / metabolism*
  • Glutamine / metabolism
  • Neurons / metabolism
  • Neurotransmitter Agents / metabolism*
  • Synapses / metabolism


  • Neurotransmitter Agents
  • Glutamine
  • Glutamic Acid
  • Glutamate-Ammonia Ligase
  • Glucose