Astrocytes comprise a large population of cells in the brain and are important partners to neighboring neurons, vascular cells, and other glial cells. Astrocytes not only form a scaffold for other cells, but also extend foot processes around the capillaries to maintain the blood-brain barrier. Thus, environmental chemicals that exist in the blood stream could have potentially harmful effects on the physiological function of astrocytes. Although astrocytes are not electrically excitable, they have been shown to function as active participants in the development of neural circuits and synaptic activity. Astrocytes respond to neurotransmitters and contribute to synaptic information processing by releasing chemical transmitters called "gliotransmitters." State-of-the-art optical imaging techniques enable us to clarify how neurotransmitters elicit the release of various gliotransmitters, including glutamate, D-serine, and ATP. Moreover, recent studies have demonstrated that the disruption of gliotransmission results in neuronal dysfunction and abnormal behaviors in animal models. In this review, we focus on the latest technical approaches to clarify the molecular mechanisms of gliotransmitter exocytosis, and discuss the possibility that exposure to environmental chemicals could alter gliotransmission and cause neurodevelopmental disorders.
Keywords: astrocytes; exocytosis; glial cell; gliotransmitter; neurodevelopmental disorders; optical imaging; synaptic activity.