Communication between neurons and astrocytes: relevance to the modulation of synaptic and network activity


Address correspondence and reprint requests to Tommaso Fellin, Department of Neuroscience and Brain Technologies, Italian Institute of Technology, Via Morego 30, 16163 Genova, Italy. E-mail:


Neuromodulation is a fundamental process in the brain that regulates synaptic transmission, neuronal network activity and behavior. Emerging evidence demonstrates that astrocytes, a major population of glial cells in the brain, play previously unrecognized functions in neuronal modulation. Astrocytes can detect the level of neuronal activity and release chemical transmitters to influence neuronal function. For example, recent findings show that astrocytes play crucial roles in the control of Hebbian plasticity, the regulation of neuronal excitability and the induction of homeostatic plasticity. This review discusses the importance of astrocyte-to-neuron signaling in different aspects of neuronal function from the activity of single synapses to that of neuronal networks.