Astrocyte development and heterogeneity

Cold Spring Harb Perspect Biol. 2014 Nov 20;7(1):a020362. doi: 10.1101/cshperspect.a020362.


Astrocytes have many roles within the brain parenchyma, and a subpopulation restricted to germinal niches functions as neural stem cells (NSCs) that produce various types of neuronal progeny in relation to spatiotemporal factors. A growing body of evidence supports the concept of morphological and molecular differences between astrocytes in different brain regions, which might relate to their derivation from regionally patterned radial glia. Indeed, the notion that astrocytes are molecularly and functionally heterogeneous could help explain how the central nervous system (CNS) retains embryonic positional information into adulthood. Here, we discuss recent evidence for regionally encoded functions of astrocytes in the developing and adult CNS to provide an integrated concept of the origin and possible function of astrocyte heterogeneity. We focus on the regionalization of NSCs in the ventricular-subventricular zone (V-SVZ) of the adult mammalian brain and emerging evidence for a segmental organization of astrocytes in the developing spinal cord and forebrain. We propose that astrocytes' diversity will provide fundamental clues to understand regional brain organization and function.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Animals
  • Astrocytes / physiology*
  • Cerebral Ventricles / cytology
  • Cerebral Ventricles / embryology*
  • Humans
  • Mammals / physiology*
  • Models, Neurological*
  • Neural Stem Cells / physiology*
  • Neuroglia / cytology
  • Neuroglia / physiology*
  • Spinal Cord / cytology*