During the past few decades of astrocyte research it has become increasingly clear that astrocytes have taken a central position in all central nervous system activities. Much of our new understanding of astrocytes has been derived from studies conducted with primary cultures of astrocytes. Such cultures have been an invaluable tool for studying roles of astrocytes in physiological and pathological states. Many central astrocytic functions in metabolism, amino acid neurotransmission and calcium signaling were discovered using this tissue culture preparation and most of these observations were subsequently found in vivo. Nevertheless, primary cultures of astrocytes are an in vitro model that does not fully mimic the complex events occurring in vivo. Here we present an overview of the numerous contributions generated by the use of primary astrocyte cultures to uncover the diverse functions of astrocytes. Many of these discoveries would not have been possible to achieve without the use of astrocyte cultures. Additionally, we address and discuss the concerns that have been raised regarding the use of primary cultures of astrocytes as an experimental model system.