Astrocytes, the most abundant glial cell in the brain, play critical roles in metabolic and homeostatic functions of the Nervous System; however, their participation in coding information and cognitive processes has been largely ignored. The strategic position of astrocyte processes facing synapses and the astrocyte ability to uptake neurotransmitters and release neuroactive substances, so-called "gliotransmitters", provide the scenario for prolific neuron-astrocyte signaling. From studies at single-cell level to animal behavior, recent advances in technology and genetics have revealed the impact of astrocyte activity in brain function from cellular and synaptic physiology, neuronal circuits to behavior. The present review critically discusses the consequences of astrocyte signaling on synapses and networks, as well as its impact on neuronal information processing, showing that some crucial brain functions arise from the coordinated activity of neuron-glia networks.
Keywords: astrocytes; gliotransmission; information coding; neuron-glia network; synaptic plasticity.