Energy metabolism in astrocytes: high rate of oxidative metabolism and spatiotemporal dependence on glycolysis/glycogenolysis

J Cereb Blood Flow Metab. 2007 Feb;27(2):219-49. doi: 10.1038/sj.jcbfm.9600343. Epub 2006 Jul 12.


Astrocytic energy demand is stimulated by K(+) and glutamate uptake, signaling processes, responses to neurotransmitters, Ca(2+) fluxes, and filopodial motility. Astrocytes derive energy from glycolytic and oxidative pathways, but respiration, with its high-energy yield, provides most adenosine 5' triphosphate (ATP). The proportion of cortical oxidative metabolism attributed to astrocytes ( approximately 30%) in in vivo nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopic and autoradiographic studies corresponds to their volume fraction, indicating similar oxidation rates in astrocytes and neurons. Astrocyte-selective expression of pyruvate carboxylase (PC) enables synthesis of glutamate from glucose, accounting for two-thirds of astrocytic glucose degradation via combined pyruvate carboxylation and dehydrogenation. Together, glutamate synthesis and oxidation, including neurotransmitter turnover, generate almost as much energy as direct glucose oxidation. Glycolysis and glycogenolysis are essential for astrocytic responses to increasing energy demand because astrocytic filopodial and lamellipodial extensions, which account for 80% of their surface area, are too narrow to accommodate mitochondria; these processes depend on glycolysis, glycogenolysis, and probably diffusion of ATP and phosphocreatine formed via mitochondrial metabolism to satisfy their energy demands. High glycogen turnover in astrocytic processes may stimulate glucose demand and lactate production because less ATP is generated when glucose is metabolized via glycogen, thereby contributing to the decreased oxygen to glucose utilization ratio during brain activation. Generated lactate can spread from activated astrocytes via low-affinity monocarboxylate transporters and gap junctions, but its subsequent fate is unknown. Astrocytic metabolic compartmentation arises from their complex ultrastructure; astrocytes have high oxidative rates plus dependence on glycolysis and glycogenolysis, and their energetics is underestimated if based solely on glutamate cycling.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Astrocytes / metabolism*
  • Astrocytes / ultrastructure
  • Brain Chemistry / physiology
  • Citric Acid Cycle / physiology
  • Energy Metabolism / physiology*
  • Glucose / metabolism
  • Glutamic Acid / metabolism
  • Glutamine / metabolism
  • Glycogenolysis / physiology*
  • Glycolysis / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Neurotransmitter Agents / metabolism
  • Oxidation-Reduction


  • Neurotransmitter Agents
  • Glutamine
  • Glutamic Acid
  • Glucose