Opera Medica et Physiologica

Excitation-Energy Coupling and Vesicle-Based Signaling in Astrocytes

Author Affiliations

Marko Kreft 1, 2, 3 Nina Vardjan 1 Robert Zorec 1, 2

1 Laboratory of Neuroendocrinology-Molecular Cell Physiology, Institute of Pathophysiology, Faculty of Medicine, University of Ljubljana, Zaloška 4, 1000 Ljubljana, Slovenia

2 Celica Biomedical, Tehnološki park 24, 1000 Ljubljana, Slovenia 3 Department of Biology, Biotechnical Faculty, University of Ljubljana, Večna pot 111, 1000 Ljubljana, Slovenia

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Most of the human brain mass is occupied by the neocortex, which consists of neurons and non-neurons. The latter cells include astrocytes, a heterogeneous glial cell type. While astrocytes have been considered as neuronsubservient entities for almost a century, it is now becoming evident that they are essential in providing homeostatic support to neural networks and that they also actively participate in information processing in the brain. Astrocytes get excited when neurotransmitters bind to their membrane receptors and feed-back by releasing their own signals. This involves vesicles, which store chemicals termed gliotransmitters or more generally gliosignaling molecules. In the former case chemical messengers get released from astrocytic sites proximal to the synapse, which defines communication to occur in the micro-space of contact between the synapse and the astrocyte. In contrast gliosignaling molecules may also be released into the extracellular space. This mode of release resembles the endocrine system. Hence astrocytes are considered to be part of the gliocrine system in the brain, where the glymphatic system mediates the convection of released molecules. This complex system not only plays a role in cell-to-cell communication but also synchronizes the provision of energy for neural networks. Astrocytes contain glycogen, a form of energy store. Excitation of astrocytes by volume transmitters, such as noradrenaline , released by locus coeruleus neurons, activates adrenergic receptors and stimulates glycogenolysis, providing lactate. This chapter briefly reviews how noradrenaline and astrocytes operate to synchronize excitation and energy provision. Moreover, Ca2+ -dependent fusion of the vesicle membrane with the plasma membrane in astrocytes is discussed.

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