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Astrocyte function from information processing to cognition and cognitive impairment

Nature Neurosciencevolume 22pages154166 (2019) | Download Citation


Astrocytes serve important roles that affect recruitment and function of neurons at the local and network levels. Here we review the contributions of astrocyte signaling to synaptic plasticity, neuronal network oscillations, and memory function. The roles played by astrocytes are not fully understood, but astrocytes seem to contribute to memory consolidation and seem to mediate the effects of vigilance and arousal on memory performance. Understanding the role of astrocytes in cognitive processes may also advance our understanding of how these processes go awry in pathological conditions. Indeed, abnormal astrocytic signaling can cause or contribute to synaptic and network imbalances, leading to cognitive impairment. We discuss evidence for this from animal models of Alzheimer’s disease and multiple sclerosis and from animal studies of sleep deprivation and drug abuse and addiction. Understanding the emerging roles of astrocytes in cognitive function and dysfunction will open up a large array of new therapeutic opportunities.

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The authors thank I. Savtchouk for helpful discussions and support in figure preparation and S. Berry for proofreading the manuscript. Research in the Volterra laboratory is supported by the ERC Advanced grant 340368 “Astromnesis”, by Swiss National Science Foundation grants 31003A 173124/1, NCCR “Synapsy” (51NF40-158776) and NCCR “Transcure” (51NF40-160620), and by Synapsis Foundation. M.S. is supported by the Swiss National Science Foundation “Ambizione” grant PP00P3_176838 and by the Novartis Foundation for medical-biological Research grant #17C157. N.T. is supported by the Swiss National Science Foundation, grant 31003A-173128.

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  1. Institute of Pharmacology and Toxicology, University of Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland

    • Mirko Santello
  2. Neuroscience Center Zurich, University of Zurich and ETH Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland

    • Mirko Santello
  3. Center for Psychiatric Neuroscience, Department of Psychiatry, Lausanne University Hospital, Prilly-Lausanne, Switzerland

    • Nicolas Toni
  4. Department of Fundamental Neuroscience, University of Lausanne, Lausanne, Switzerland

    • Andrea Volterra


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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Correspondence to Andrea Volterra.

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