Disentangling astroglial physiology with a realistic cell model in silico

Nat Commun. 2018 Sep 3;9(1):3554. doi: 10.1038/s41467-018-05896-w.


Electrically non-excitable astroglia take up neurotransmitters, buffer extracellular K+ and generate Ca2+ signals that release molecular regulators of neural circuitry. The underlying machinery remains enigmatic, mainly because the sponge-like astrocyte morphology has been difficult to access experimentally or explore theoretically. Here, we systematically incorporate multi-scale, tri-dimensional astroglial architecture into a realistic multi-compartmental cell model, which we constrain by empirical tests and integrate into the NEURON computational biophysical environment. This approach is implemented as a flexible astrocyte-model builder ASTRO. As a proof-of-concept, we explore an in silico astrocyte to evaluate basic cell physiology features inaccessible experimentally. Our simulations suggest that currents generated by glutamate transporters or K+ channels have negligible distant effects on membrane voltage and that individual astrocytes can successfully handle extracellular K+ hotspots. We show how intracellular Ca2+ buffers affect Ca2+ waves and why the classical Ca2+ sparks-and-puffs mechanism is theoretically compatible with common readouts of astroglial Ca2+ imaging.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Algorithms
  • Amino Acid Transport System X-AG / metabolism*
  • Animals
  • Astrocytes / metabolism
  • Astrocytes / physiology*
  • Calcium / metabolism*
  • Computer Simulation
  • Hippocampus / cytology
  • Membrane Potentials
  • Models, Neurological
  • Neurons / metabolism*
  • Patch-Clamp Techniques
  • Potassium Channels / metabolism*
  • Proof of Concept Study
  • Rats
  • Software


  • Amino Acid Transport System X-AG
  • Potassium Channels
  • Calcium