Reactive astrocytes: cellular and molecular cues to biological function

Trends Neurosci. 1997 Dec;20(12):570-7. doi: 10.1016/s0166-2236(97)01139-9.


For several decades, the reactive gliosis that occurs after an injury to the CNS has been considered one of the major impediments to axonal regeneration. Nevertheless, recent studies have suggested that in certain conditions, reactive astrocytes may provide a permissive substratum to support axonal regrowth. The important criteria, allowing for the distinction between permissive and non-permissive gliosis, are the ultrastructural 3D organization of the scar and more importantly the recognition molecules expressed by reactive astrocytes. Reactive astrocytes express surface molecules and produce various neurotrophic factors and cytokines. The latter in turn might modulate the production of recognition molecules by reactive astrocytes, allowing them to support post-lesional axonal regrowth. Although numerous recent articles have focused on cytokines and cell adhesion molecules, scant attention has been paid to reactive astrocytes. Reactive astrocytes should be considered a key element, like neurons, of a dynamic environment, thus forming with neurons a functional unit involved in homeostasis, plasticity and neurotransmission. Attempts are in progress to identify molecular markers for reactive astrocytes.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Astrocytes / metabolism
  • Astrocytes / physiology*
  • Axons / physiology
  • Brain / cytology*
  • Humans