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Front. Cell. Neurosci. | doi: 10.3389/fncel.2018.00261

Important shapeshifter: mechanisms allowing astrocytes to respond to the changing nervous system during development, injury and disease

  • 1Institut für Biochemie, Charité Universitätsmedizin Berlin, Germany

Astrocytes are the most prevalent glial cells in the brain. Historically considered as ‘merely supporting’ neurons, recent research has shown that astrocytes actively participate in a large variety of central nervous system (CNS) functions including synaptogenesis, neuronal transmission and synaptic plasticity. During disease and injury, astrocytes efficiently protect neurons by various means, notably by sealing them off from neurotoxic factors and repairing the blood-brain barrier. Their ramified morphology allows them to perform diverse tasks by interacting with synapses, blood vessels and other glial cells. In this review, we provide an overview of how astrocytes acquire their complex morphology during development. We then move from the developing to the mature brain, and review current research on perisynaptic astrocytic processes, with a particular focus on how astrocytes engage synapses and modulate their formation and activity. Comprehensive changes have been reported in astrocyte cell shape in many CNS pathologies. Factors influencing these morphological changes are summarized in the context of brain pathologies, such as traumatic injury and degenerative conditions. We provide insight into the molecular, cellular and cytoskeletal machinery behind these shape changes which drive the dynamic remodeling in astrocyte morphology during injury and the development of pathologies.

Keywords: Astrocytes, morphology, CNS, Pathology, Cytoskeleton, Astrogliosis, brain trauma, synapse

Received: 02 May 2018; Accepted: 31 Jul 2018.

Edited by:

C L. Sayas, Universidad de La Laguna, Spain

Reviewed by:

Reno C. Reyes, Holy Names University, United States
Matteo Bergami, Kölner Exzellenzcluster zu zellulären Stressantworten bei alternden assoziierten Erkrankungen, Germany  

Copyright: © 2018 Schiweck, Eickholt and Murk. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence:
Prof. Britta J. Eickholt, Institut für Biochemie, Charité Universitätsmedizin Berlin, Berlin, Germany, britta.eickholt@charite.de
Dr. Kai Murk, Institut für Biochemie, Charité Universitätsmedizin Berlin, Berlin, Germany, kai.murk@charite.de