Astrocytes, a major type of glial cell, are known to play key supportive roles in brain function, contributing to ion and neurotransmitter homeostasis, maintaining the blood-brain barrier and providing trophic and metabolic support for neurons. Besides these support functions, astrocytes are emerging as important elements in brain physiology through signaling exchange with neurons at tripartite synapses. Astrocytes express a wide variety of neurotransmitter transporters and receptors that allow them to sense and respond to synaptic activity. Principal among them are the G-protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs) in astrocytes because their activation by synaptically released neurotransmitters leads to mobilization of intracellular calcium. In turn, activated astrocytes release neuroactive substances called gliotransmitters, such as glutamate, GABA, and ATP/adenosine that lead to synaptic regulation through activation of neuronal GPCRs. In this review we will present and discuss recent evidence demonstrating the critical roles played by GPCRs in the bidirectional astrocyte-neuron signaling, and their crucial involvement in the astrocyte-mediated regulation of synaptic transmission and plasticity.
Keywords: astrocytes; astrocyte–neuron signaling; gliotransmission; gliotransmitters; synaptic plasticity; tripartite synapses.
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