Reactive gliosis, which occurs in response to any damage or disturbance to the central nervous system, has been recognized for many years, but is still not completely understood. The hallmark is the increased expression of glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP), yet studies in GFAP knockout mice suggest that GFAP may not be required for an astrocyte to become hypertrophic. In this review, we describe a series of tissue culture models that have been established in order to address: 1) the biochemical phenotype of reactive astrocytes; 2) the factor and/or cell responsible for induction of gliosis; 3) the mechanisms by which one might block the induction. These models range from cultures of astrocytes, both neonatal and adult, to co-cultures of astrocytes with either neurons or microglia, to organ cultures. None is ideal: each addresses a different set of questions, but taken together, they are beginning to provide useful information which should allow a better understanding of the plasticity response of astrocytes to brain injury.