Monday, 18th December 2017

Molecular Neuropathology

Astrocyte Physiology




Marta Navarrete Llinás






Research summary:

Astrocytes, classically considered as supportive cells for neurons without a direct role in brain information processing, are emerging as relevant elements in brain physiology through their ability to regulate neuronal and synaptic activity. Yet, their role in fundamental processes of brain function remains unknown.

Synaptic plasticity is fundamental to the neural processes underlying learning and memory. Solid experimental data on the cellular mechanisms of memory have led to the widely held view that memories are stored as modifications of synaptic strength. The most remarkable property of synapses lies in their capacity to modify the efficiency with which they transmit information from one neuron to another. This property, known as synaptic plasticity, is the basis of information storage in the brain.

Until recently the plastic control of synaptic strength was thought to be an intrinsic property of the neuronal circuitry. Recent evidences, however, have demonstrated more active roles of glial cells in brain physiology than previously thought. This findings revealed that astrocytes, a major type of glial cells, may directly involved in the regulation of neuronal and synaptic function by responding to neurotransmitters released from synaptic terminals and by releasing gliotransmitters that can impact neurons and synapse (Figure 1).


Figure 1

Consequently, a novel view of the brain function has emerged in which brain physiology does not result exclusively from the neuronal network activity, this arise from the interactive activity of neuron-glial networks.

Our overall aim is to further study of the role of astroglial cells in the brain and also focus on the roles of these glial cells in disorders of the nervous system. We use state-of-the-art techniques, that include optogenetics, chemogenetics, multiphoton microscopy, combined calcium imaging and multiple electrophysiological recordings, in slices and in vivo, in transgenic and experimental animal models.

Supported by: SAF2014-58598-JIN; L´Oreal-Unesco "for woman in Science"; I Convocatoria Ayudas Fundación BBVA a Investigadores, Innovadores y Creadores Culturales.