Errant gardeners: glial-cell-dependent synaptic pruning and neurodevelopmental disorders

Nat Rev Neurosci. 2017 Nov;18(11):658-670. doi: 10.1038/nrn.2017.110. Epub 2017 Sep 21.


The final stage of brain development is associated with the generation and maturation of neuronal synapses. However, the same period is also associated with a peak in synapse elimination - a process known as synaptic pruning - that has been proposed to be crucial for the maturation of remaining synaptic connections. Recent studies have pointed to a key role for glial cells in synaptic pruning in various parts of the nervous system and have identified a set of critical signalling pathways between glia and neurons. At the same time, brain imaging and post-mortem anatomical studies suggest that insufficient or excessive synaptic pruning may underlie several neurodevelopmental disorders, including autism, schizophrenia and epilepsy. Here, we review current data on the cellular, physiological and molecular mechanisms of glial-cell-dependent synaptic pruning and outline their potential contribution to neurodevelopmental disorders.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / cytology
  • Brain / pathology
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Neural Pathways / cytology
  • Neural Pathways / physiology
  • Neurodevelopmental Disorders* / pathology
  • Neuroglia / pathology
  • Neuroglia / physiology*
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology*
  • Synapses / pathology
  • Synapses / physiology*