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Keywords:

  • astrocytes;
  • chemokines;
  • cytokines;
  • inflammation;
  • immune reactivity

Abstract

Astrocytes are the major glial cell within the central nervous system (CNS) and have a number of important physiological properties related to CNS homeostasis. The aspect of astrocyte biology addressed in this review article is the astrocyte as an immunocompetent cell within the brain. The capacity of astrocytes to express class II major histocompatibility complex (MHC) antigens and costimulatory molecules (B7 and CD40) that are critical for antigen presentation and T-cell activation are discussed. The functional role of astrocytes as immune effector cells and how this may influence aspects of inflammation and immune reactivity within the brain follows, emphasizing the involvement of astrocytes in promoting Th2 responses. The ability of astrocytes to produce a wide array of chemokines and cytokines is discussed, with an emphasis on the immunological properties of these mediators. The significance of astrocytic antigen presentation and chemokine/cytokine production to neurological diseases with an immunological component is described. GLIA 36:180–190, 2001. © 2001 Wiley-Liss, Inc.