Recent molecular approaches to understanding astrocyte function in vivo

Front Cell Neurosci. 2013 Dec 24;7:272. doi: 10.3389/fncel.2013.00272.


Astrocytes are a predominant glial cell type in the nervous systems, and are becoming recognized as important mediators of normal brain function as well as neurodevelopmental, neurological, and neurodegenerative brain diseases. Although numerous potential mechanisms have been proposed to explain the role of astrocytes in the normal and diseased brain, research into the physiological relevance of these mechanisms in vivo is just beginning. In this review, we will summarize recent developments in innovative and powerful molecular approaches, including knockout mouse models, transgenic mouse models, and astrocyte-targeted gene transfer/expression, which have led to advances in understanding astrocyte biology in vivo that were heretofore inaccessible to experimentation. We will examine the recently improved understanding of the roles of astrocytes - with an emphasis on astrocyte signaling - in the context of both the healthy and diseased brain, discuss areas where the role of astrocytes remains debated, and suggest new research directions.

Keywords: GPCR; astrocytes; chemogenetics; glial cell progenitors; knockout mice; neuron–glia interactions; transgenic mice; viral gene transduction.

Publication types

  • Review