The Multifaceted Neurotoxicity of Astrocytes in Ageing and Age-Related Neurodegenerative Diseases: A Translational Perspective

Front Physiol. 2022 Mar 17;13:814889. doi: 10.3389/fphys.2022.814889. eCollection 2022.


In a healthy physiological context, astrocytes are multitasking cells contributing to central nervous system (CNS) homeostasis, defense, and immunity. In cell culture or rodent models of age-related neurodegenerative diseases (NDDs), such as Alzheimer's disease (AD) and Parkinson's disease (PD), numerous studies have shown that astrocytes can adopt neurotoxic phenotypes that could enhance disease progression. Chronic inflammatory responses, oxidative stress, unbalanced phagocytosis, or alteration of their core physiological roles are the main manifestations of their detrimental states. However, if astrocytes are directly involved in brain deterioration by exerting neurotoxic functions in patients with NDDs is still controversial. The large spectrum of NDDs, with often overlapping pathologies, and the technical challenges associated with the study of human brain samples complexify the analysis of astrocyte involvement in specific neurodegenerative cascades. With this review, we aim to provide a translational overview about the multi-facets of astrocyte neurotoxicity ranging from in vitro findings over mouse and human cell-based studies to rodent NDDs research and finally evidence from patient-related research. We also discuss the role of ageing in astrocytes encompassing changes in physiology and response to pathologic stimuli and how this may prime detrimental responses in NDDs. To conclude, we discuss how potentially therapeutic strategies could be adopted to alleviate or reverse astrocytic toxicity and their potential to impact neurodegeneration and dementia progression in patients.

Keywords: ageing; astrocyte; heterogeneity; neurodegeneration; neurotoxicity; reactive astrogliosis.

Publication types

  • Review