Diversity of astrocyte functions and phenotypes in neural circuits

Nat Neurosci. 2015 Jul;18(7):942-52. doi: 10.1038/nn.4043.


Astrocytes tile the entire CNS. They are vital for neural circuit function, but have traditionally been viewed as simple, homogenous cells that serve the same essential supportive roles everywhere. Here, we summarize breakthroughs that instead indicate that astrocytes represent a population of complex and functionally diverse cells. Physiological diversity of astrocytes is apparent between different brain circuits and microcircuits, and individual astrocytes display diverse signaling in subcellular compartments. With respect to injury and disease, astrocytes undergo diverse phenotypic changes that may be protective or causative with regard to pathology in a context-dependent manner. These new insights herald the concept that astrocytes represent a diverse population of genetically tractable cells that mediate neural circuit-specific roles in health and disease.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Astrocytes / cytology
  • Astrocytes / metabolism
  • Astrocytes / physiology*
  • Central Nervous System Diseases / metabolism
  • Central Nervous System Diseases / pathology
  • Central Nervous System Diseases / physiopathology*
  • Phenotype*
  • Signal Transduction / physiology*