Inhibitory input directs astrocyte morphogenesis through glial GABABR

Nature. 2023 May;617(7960):369-376. doi: 10.1038/s41586-023-06010-x. Epub 2023 Apr 26.


Communication between neurons and glia has an important role in establishing and maintaining higher-order brain function1. Astrocytes are endowed with complex morphologies, placing their peripheral processes in close proximity to neuronal synapses and directly contributing to their regulation of brain circuits2-4. Recent studies have shown that excitatory neuronal activity promotes oligodendrocyte differentiation5-7; whether inhibitory neurotransmission regulates astrocyte morphogenesis during development is unclear. Here we show that inhibitory neuron activity is necessary and sufficient for astrocyte morphogenesis. We found that input from inhibitory neurons functions through astrocytic GABAB receptor (GABABR) and that its deletion in astrocytes results in a loss of morphological complexity across a host of brain regions and disruption of circuit function. Expression of GABABR in developing astrocytes is regulated in a region-specific manner by SOX9 or NFIA and deletion of these transcription factors results in region-specific defects in astrocyte morphogenesis, which is conferred by interactions with transcription factors exhibiting region-restricted patterns of expression. Together, our studies identify input from inhibitory neurons and astrocytic GABABR as universal regulators of morphogenesis, while further revealing a combinatorial code of region-specific transcriptional dependencies for astrocyte development that is intertwined with activity-dependent processes.

MeSH terms

  • Astrocytes* / cytology
  • Astrocytes* / metabolism
  • Cell Shape*
  • Gene Expression Regulation
  • NFI Transcription Factors / metabolism
  • Neural Inhibition*
  • Neurons* / metabolism
  • Receptors, GABA-B* / metabolism
  • SOX9 Transcription Factor / metabolism
  • Synapses / metabolism
  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid / metabolism


  • gamma-Aminobutyric Acid
  • Receptors, GABA-B
  • SOX9 Transcription Factor
  • NFI Transcription Factors