Astrocytes as regulators of synaptic function: a quest for the Ca2+ master key

Neuroscientist. 2011 Oct;17(5):513-23. doi: 10.1177/1073858410387304. Epub 2011 May 2.


The emerging role of astrocytes in neural communication represents a conceptual challenge. In striking contrast to the rapid and highly space- and time-constrained machinery of neuronal spike propagation and synaptic release, astroglia appear slow and imprecise. Although a large body of independent experiments documents active signal exchange between astrocytes and neurons, some genetic models have raised doubts about the major Ca2+ -dependent molecular mechanism routinely associated with release of "gliotransmitters." A limited understanding of astrocytic Ca2+ signaling and the imperfect compatibility between physiology and experimental manipulations seem to have contributed to this conceptual bottleneck. Experimental approaches providing mechanistic insights into the diverse mechanisms of intra-astrocyte Ca2+ signaling on the nanoscale are needed to understand Ca2+ -dependent astrocytic function in vivo. This review highlights limitations and potential advantages of such approaches from the current methodological perspective.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Astrocytes / physiology*
  • Calcium / physiology
  • Calcium Signaling / physiology*
  • Cell Communication / physiology
  • Humans
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Synapses / physiology*
  • Synaptic Transmission / physiology*


  • Calcium