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      Astrocytes: biology and pathology


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          Astrocytes are specialized glial cells that outnumber neurons by over fivefold. They contiguously tile the entire central nervous system (CNS) and exert many essential complex functions in the healthy CNS. Astrocytes respond to all forms of CNS insults through a process referred to as reactive astrogliosis, which has become a pathological hallmark of CNS structural lesions. Substantial progress has been made recently in determining functions and mechanisms of reactive astrogliosis and in identifying roles of astrocytes in CNS disorders and pathologies. A vast molecular arsenal at the disposal of reactive astrocytes is being defined. Transgenic mouse models are dissecting specific aspects of reactive astrocytosis and glial scar formation in vivo. Astrocyte involvement in specific clinicopathological entities is being defined. It is now clear that reactive astrogliosis is not a simple all-or-none phenomenon but is a finely gradated continuum of changes that occur in context-dependent manners regulated by specific signaling events. These changes range from reversible alterations in gene expression and cell hypertrophy with preservation of cellular domains and tissue structure, to long-lasting scar formation with rearrangement of tissue structure. Increasing evidence points towards the potential of reactive astrogliosis to play either primary or contributing roles in CNS disorders via loss of normal astrocyte functions or gain of abnormal effects. This article reviews (1) astrocyte functions in healthy CNS, (2) mechanisms and functions of reactive astrogliosis and glial scar formation, and (3) ways in which reactive astrocytes may cause or contribute to specific CNS disorders and lesions .

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          Thrombospondins are astrocyte-secreted proteins that promote CNS synaptogenesis.

          The establishment of neural circuitry requires vast numbers of synapses to be generated during a specific window of brain development, but it is not known why the developing mammalian brain has a much greater capacity to generate new synapses than the adult brain. Here we report that immature but not mature astrocytes express thrombospondins (TSPs)-1 and -2 and that these TSPs promote CNS synaptogenesis in vitro and in vivo. TSPs induce ultrastructurally normal synapses that are presynaptically active but postsynaptically silent and work in concert with other, as yet unidentified, astrocyte-derived signals to produce functional synapses. These studies identify TSPs as CNS synaptogenic proteins, provide evidence that astrocytes are important contributors to synaptogenesis within the developing CNS, and suggest that TSP-1 and -2 act as a permissive switch that times CNS synaptogenesis by enabling neuronal molecules to assemble into synapses within a specific window of CNS development.
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            Uniquely hominid features of adult human astrocytes.

            Defining the microanatomic differences between the human brain and that of other mammals is key to understanding its unique computational power. Although much effort has been devoted to comparative studies of neurons, astrocytes have received far less attention. We report here that protoplasmic astrocytes in human neocortex are 2.6-fold larger in diameter and extend 10-fold more GFAP (glial fibrillary acidic protein)-positive primary processes than their rodent counterparts. In cortical slices prepared from acutely resected surgical tissue, protoplasmic astrocytes propagate Ca(2+) waves with a speed of 36 microm/s, approximately fourfold faster than rodent. Human astrocytes also transiently increase cystosolic Ca(2+) in response to glutamatergic and purinergic receptor agonists. The human neocortex also harbors several anatomically defined subclasses of astrocytes not represented in rodents. These include a population of astrocytes that reside in layers 5-6 and extend long fibers characterized by regularly spaced varicosities. Another specialized type of astrocyte, the interlaminar astrocyte, abundantly populates the superficial cortical layers and extends long processes without varicosities to cortical layers 3 and 4. Human fibrous astrocytes resemble their rodent counterpart but are larger in diameter. Thus, human cortical astrocytes are both larger, and structurally both more complex and more diverse, than those of rodents. On this basis, we posit that this astrocytic complexity has permitted the increased functional competence of the adult human brain.
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              Neurons derived from radial glial cells establish radial units in neocortex.

              The neocortex of the adult brain consists of neurons and glia that are generated by precursor cells of the embryonic ventricular zone. In general, glia are generated after neurons during development, but radial glia are an exception to this rule. Radial glia are generated before neurogenesis and guide neuronal migration. Radial glia are mitotically active throughout neurogenesis, and disappear or become astrocytes when neuronal migration is complete. Although the lineage relationships of cortical neurons and glia have been explored, the clonal relationship of radial glia to other cortical cells remains unknown. It has been suggested that radial glia may be neuronal precursors, but this has not been demonstrated in vivo. We have used a retroviral vector encoding enhanced green fluorescent protein to label precursor cells in vivo and have examined clones 1-3 days later using morphological, immunohistochemical and electrophysiological techniques. Here we show that clones consist of mitotic radial glia and postmitotic neurons, and that neurons migrate along clonally related radial glia. Time-lapse images show that proliferative radial glia generate neurons. Our results support the concept that a lineage relationship between neurons and proliferative radial glia may underlie the radial organization of neocortex.

                Author and article information

                Acta Neuropathol
                Acta Neuropathologica
                Springer-Verlag (Berlin/Heidelberg )
                10 December 2009
                January 2010
                : 119
                : 1
                : 7-35
                [1 ]Department of Neurobiology, David Geffen School of Medicine, University of California, 10833 Le Conte Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90095-1763 USA
                [2 ]Division of Neuropathology, Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, David Geffen School of Medicine, University of California, Los Angeles, CA 90095-1763 USA
                [3 ]Department of Neurology, David Geffen School of Medicine, University of California, Los Angeles, CA 90095-1732 USA
                © The Author(s) 2009
                : 17 November 2009
                : 23 November 2009
                : 24 November 2009
                Custom metadata
                © Springer-Verlag 2010

                glial scar,central nervous system,reactive astrogliosis,astrocyte,gfap,pathology
                glial scar, central nervous system, reactive astrogliosis, astrocyte, gfap, pathology


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