Unraveling the complex metabolic nature of astrocytes

Front Cell Neurosci. 2013 Oct 11;7:179. doi: 10.3389/fncel.2013.00179.


Since the initial description of astrocytes by neuroanatomists of the nineteenth century, a critical metabolic role for these cells has been suggested in the central nervous system. Nonetheless, it took several technological and conceptual advances over many years before we could start to understand how they fulfill such a role. One of the important and early recognized metabolic function of astrocytes concerns the reuptake and recycling of the neurotransmitter glutamate. But the description of this initial property will be followed by several others including an implication in the supply of energetic substrates to neurons. Indeed, despite the fact that like most eukaryotic non-proliferative cells, astrocytes rely on oxidative metabolism for energy production, they exhibit a prominent aerobic glycolysis capacity. Moreover, this unusual metabolic feature was found to be modulated by glutamatergic activity constituting the initial step of the neurometabolic coupling mechanism. Several approaches, including biochemical measurements in cultured cells, genetic screening, dynamic cell imaging, nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy and mathematical modeling, have provided further insights into the intrinsic characteristics giving rise to these key features of astrocytes. This review will provide an account of the different results obtained over several decades that contributed to unravel the complex metabolic nature of astrocytes that make this cell type unique.

Keywords: aerobic glycolysis; astrocytes; energy metabolism; glucose; glycogen; lactate.

Publication types

  • Review