Astrocyte plasticity induced by emotional stress: A new partner in psychiatric physiopathology?

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Abstract

A growing body of evidence has demonstrated that astrocytes play a pivotal role in the normal functioning of the nervous system. This new conceptual framework has set the groundwork to be able to hypothesize that astrocytes could underlie signs and symptoms of mental diseases. Stress is a major risk factor in the etiology of several psychiatric diseases, such as anxiety disorders and depression. Hence, understanding the effects of stress on astrocytes and how these changes contribute to the development of psychiatric endophenotypes is crucial for both a better comprehension of mental illness and for potential targeted treatment of stress-related mental disorders. Here, we describe the currently used approaches and recent evidence showing astrocyte alterations induced by chronic and acute stress in animals. In addition, the relevance of these changes in stress-induced behavioral sequelae and human data linking astrocytes with neuropsychiatric disorders related to stress are also discussed. All together, the data indicate that astrocytes are also an important target of stress, with both chronic and acute stressors being able to alter the morphology or the expression of several astrocyte specific proteins in brain areas that are known to play a critical role in emotional processing, such as the prefrontal cortex, hippocampus and amygdala. Furthermore, different lines of evidences suggest that these changes may contribute, at less in part, to the behavioral consequences of stress.

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