Emerging technologies to study glial cells

Glia. 2020 Sep;68(9):1692-1728. doi: 10.1002/glia.23780. Epub 2020 Jan 20.


Development, physiological functions, and pathologies of the brain depend on tight interactions between neurons and different types of glial cells, such as astrocytes, microglia, oligodendrocytes, and oligodendrocyte precursor cells. Assessing the relative contribution of different glial cell types is required for the full understanding of brain function and dysfunction. Over the recent years, several technological breakthroughs were achieved, allowing "glio-scientists" to address new challenging biological questions. These technical developments make it possible to study the roles of specific cell types with medium or high-content workflows and perform fine analysis of their mutual interactions in a preserved environment. This review illustrates the potency of several cutting-edge experimental approaches (advanced cell cultures, induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC)-derived human glial cells, viral vectors, in situ glia imaging, opto- and chemogenetic approaches, and high-content molecular analysis) to unravel the role of glial cells in specific brain functions or diseases. It also illustrates the translation of some techniques to the clinics, to monitor glial cells in patients, through specific brain imaging methods. The advantages, pitfalls, and future developments are discussed for each technique, and selected examples are provided to illustrate how specific "gliobiological" questions can now be tackled.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Astrocytes*
  • Humans
  • Microglia
  • Neuroglia*
  • Neurons
  • Oligodendroglia