Astrocytes as new targets to improve cognitive functions

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Abstract

Astrocytes are now viewed as key elements of brain wiring as well as neuronal communication. Indeed, they not only bridge the gap between metabolic supplies by blood vessels and neurons, but also allow fine control of neurotransmission by providing appropriate signaling molecules and insulation through a tight enwrapping of synapses. Recognition that astroglia is essential to neuronal communication is nevertheless fairly recent and the large body of evidence dissecting such role has focused on the synaptic level by identifying neuro- and gliotransmitters uptaken and released at synaptic or extrasynaptic sites. Yet, more integrated research deciphering the impact of astroglial functions on neuronal network activity have led to the reasonable assumption that the role of astrocytes in supervising synaptic activity translates in influencing neuronal processing and cognitive functions. Several investigations using recent genetic tools now support this notion by showing that inactivating or boosting astroglial function directly affects cognitive abilities. Accordingly, brain diseases resulting in impaired cognitive functions have seen their physiopathological mechanisms revisited in light of this primary protagonist of brain processing. We here provide a review of the current knowledge on the role of astrocytes in cognition and in several brain diseases including neurodegenerative disorders, psychiatric illnesses, as well as other conditions such as epilepsy. Potential astroglial therapeutic targets are also discussed.

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