Integrated brain circuits: astrocytic networks modulate neuronal activity and behavior

Annu Rev Physiol. 2010;72:335-55. doi: 10.1146/annurev-physiol-021909-135843.


The past decade has seen an explosion of research on roles of neuron-astrocyte interactions in the control of brain function. We highlight recent studies performed on the tripartite synapse, the structure consisting of pre- and postsynaptic elements of the synapse and an associated astrocytic process. Astrocytes respond to neuronal activity and neurotransmitters, through the activation of metabotropic receptors, and can release the gliotransmitters ATP, d-serine, and glutamate, which act on neurons. Astrocyte-derived ATP modulates synaptic transmission, either directly or through its metabolic product adenosine. d-serine modulates NMDA receptor function, whereas glia-derived glutamate can play important roles in relapse following withdrawal from drugs of abuse. Cell type-specific molecular genetics has allowed a new level of examination of the function of astrocytes in brain function and has revealed an important role of these glial cells that is mediated by adenosine accumulation in the control of sleep and in cognitive impairments that follow sleep deprivation.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adenosine Triphosphate / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Astrocytes / metabolism
  • Astrocytes / physiology*
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology*
  • Calcium Signaling / physiology
  • Glutamic Acid / metabolism
  • Glutamic Acid / physiology
  • Humans
  • Nerve Net / cytology
  • Nerve Net / metabolism
  • Nerve Net / physiology*
  • Nervous System Diseases / physiopathology
  • Neurons / metabolism
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Neurotransmitter Agents / metabolism
  • Neurotransmitter Agents / physiology
  • Purines / metabolism
  • Receptors, N-Methyl-D-Aspartate / physiology
  • Serine / metabolism
  • Serine / physiology
  • Sleep / physiology
  • Synapses / physiology
  • Synaptic Transmission / physiology


  • Neurotransmitter Agents
  • Purines
  • Receptors, N-Methyl-D-Aspartate
  • Glutamic Acid
  • Serine
  • Adenosine Triphosphate