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Rev Neurol. 2003 Jan 16-31;36(2):137-44.

[New information pathways in the nervous system: communication between astrocytes and neurones].

[Article in Spanish]

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  • 1Instituto Cajal, Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cientificas, Madrid, EspaƱa.



Astrocytes, a type of glial cell in the central nervous system (CNS), have been classically considered as trophic, structural and supportive cells for neurons. However, in recent years, accumulating evidence suggest a more active role of astrocytes in the physiology of neurons, being involved in the information processing of the CNS. Astrocytes exhibit both a form of excitability based on variations of the intracellular Ca2+ concentration, and a form of communication based on intercellular Ca2+ waves. Furthermore, synaptically released neurotransmitters mobilize Ca2+ from the astrocytic intracellular stores, i.e., the astrocytic cellular excitability can be triggered by the synaptic activity. Finally, astrocytes release the transmitter glutamate to the extracellular space through a Ca2+ dependent mechanism, modulating the neuronal electrical activity and the synaptic transmission. As a consequence of the demonstration of these new forms of cellular communication between astrocytes and neurons, the concept of tripartite synapse has been proposed, in which the synapse is functionally constituted by three elements, i.e., the pre and postsynaptic elements and the surrounding astrocytes.


The novel results discussed in the present review support the presence of new and complex information pathways in the CNS, which are based on the existence of bidirectional communication between astrocytes and neurons, and which have relevant consequences on the cellular mechanisms responsible for the information processing of the CNS.

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