Astrocytes are key active elements of the brain that contribute to information processing. They not only provide neurons with metabolic and structural support, but also regulate neurogenesis and brain wiring. Furthermore, astrocytes modulate synaptic activity and plasticity in part by controlling the extracellular space volume, as well as ion and neurotransmitter homeostasis. These findings, together with the discovery that human astrocytes display contrasting characteristics with their rodent counterparts, point to a role for astrocytes in higher cognitive functions. Dysfunction of astrocytes can thereby induce major alterations in neuronal functions, contributing to the pathogenesis of several brain disorders. In this review we summarize the current knowledge on the structural and functional alterations occurring in astrocytes from the human brain in pathological conditions such as epilepsy, primary tumours, Alzheimer's disease, major depressive disorder and Down syndrome. Compelling evidence thus shows that dysregulations of astrocyte functions and interplay with neurons contribute to the development and progression of various neurological diseases. Targeting astrocytes is thus a promising alternative approach that could contribute to the development of novel and effective therapies to treat brain disorders.
Keywords: Astrocytes; Brain; Humans; Pathology.
Copyright © 2017 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.