Astrocytes are a major component of the resident non-neuronal glial cell population of the CNS. They are ubiquitously distributed throughout the brain and spinal cord, where they were initially thought to function in both structural and homeostatic capacities, providing the framework and environment in which neurons performed their parenchymal duties. However, this stroma-like view of astrocytes is no longer satisfactory. Mounting evidence particularly within the last decade indicates that astrocytes do not simply support neuronal activity but directly contribute to it. Congruent with this evolving view of astrocyte function in information processing is the emergent notion that these glial cells are not a homogeneous population of cells. Thus, astrocytes in various anatomically distinct regions of the normal CNS possess unique phenotypic characteristics that may directly influence the particular neuronal activities that define these regions. Remarkably, regional populations of astrocytes appear to exhibit local heterogeneity as well. Many phenotypic traits of the astrocyte lineage are responsive to local environmental cues (i.e., are adaptable), suggesting that plasticity contributes to this diversity. However, compelling evidence suggests that astrocytes arise from multiple distinct progenitor pools in the developing CNS, raising the intriguing possibility that some astrocyte heterogeneity may result from intrinsic differences between these progenitors. The purpose of this review is to explore the evidence for and mechanistic determinants of regional and local astrocyte diversity.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience