Supportive or information-processing functions of the mature protoplasmic astrocyte in the mammalian CNS? A critical appraisal

Neuron Glia Biol. 2007 Aug;3(3):181-9. doi: 10.1017/S1740925X08000094.


It has been proposed that astrocytes should no longer be viewed purely as support cells for neurons, such as providing a constant environment and metabolic substrates, but that they should also be viewed as being involved in affecting synaptic activity in an active way and, therefore, an integral part of the information-processing properties of the brain. This essay discusses the possible differences between a support and an instructive role, and concludes that any distinction has to be blurred. In view of this, and a brief overview of the nature of the data, the new evidence seems insufficient to conclude that the physiological roles of mature astrocytes go beyond a general support role. I propose a model of mature protoplasmic astrocyte function that is drawn from the most recent data on their structure, the domain concept and their syncytial characteristics, of an independent rather than integrative functioning of the ends of each process where the activities that affect synaptic activity and blood vessel diameter will be concentrated.

Keywords: Homeostasis; information processing; support roles; vesicular release; voltage clamp.