The emergence of astroglia as an important participant of the synaptic machinery has led to the 'tripartite synapse' hypothesis. Recent findings suggest that synaptic signaling also involves the surrounding extracellular matrix (ECM). The ECM can incorporate and store molecular traces of both neuronal and glial activities. It can also modulate function of local receptors or ion channels and send diffuse molecular signals using products of its use-dependent proteolytic cleavage. Recent experimental findings implicate the ECM in mechanisms of synaptic plasticity and glial remodeling, thus lending support to the 'tetrapartite synapse' concept. This inclusive view might help to understand better the mechanisms underlying signal integration and novel forms of long-term homeostatic regulation in the brain.
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