Astrocytic neurotransmitter receptors in situ and in vivo

Prog Neurobiol. 1997 Mar;51(4):439-55. doi: 10.1016/s0301-0082(96)00068-8.


In the brain, astrocytes are associated intimately with neurons and surround synapses. Due to their close proximity to synaptic clefts, astrocytes are in a prime location for receiving synaptic information from released neurotransmitters. Cultured astrocytes express a wide range of neurotransmitter receptors, but do astrocytes in vivo also express neurotransmitter receptors and, if so, are the receptors activated by synaptically released neurotransmitters? In recent years, considerable efforts has gone into addressing these issues. The experimental results of this effort have been compiled and are presented in this review. Although there are many different receptors which have not been identified on astrocytes in situ, it is clear that astrocytes in situ express a number of different receptors. There is evidence of glutamatergic, GABAergic, adrenergic, purinergic, serotonergic, muscarinic, and peptidergic receptors on protoplasmic, fibrous, or specialized (Bergmann glia, pituicytes, Müller glia) astrocytes in situ and in vivo. These receptors are functionally coupled to changes in membrane potential or to intracellular signaling pathways such as activation of phospholipase C or adenylate cyclase. The expression of neurotransmitter receptors by astrocytes in situ exhibits regional and intraregional heterogeneity and changes during development and in response to injury. There is also evidence that receptors on astrocytes in situ can be activated by neurotransmitter(s) released from synaptic terminals. Given the evidence of extra-synaptic signaling and the expression of neurotransmitter receptors by astrocytes in situ, direct communication between neurons and astrocytes via neurotransmitters could be a widespread form of communication in the brain which may affect many different aspects of brain function, such as glutamate uptake and the modulation of extracellular space.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Astrocytes / physiology*
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Humans
  • Receptors, Neurotransmitter / physiology*


  • Receptors, Neurotransmitter