Astrocytes: a central element in neurological diseases

Milos Pekny, Marcela Pekna, Albee Messing, Christian Steinhäuser, Jin-Moo Lee, Vladimir Parpura, Elly M Hol, Michael V Sofroniew, Alexei Verkhratsky

Research output: Contribution to journal/periodicalArticleScientificpeer-review


The neurone-centred view of the past disregarded or downplayed the role of astroglia as a primary component in the pathogenesis of neurological diseases. As this concept is changing, so is also the perceived role of astrocytes in the healthy and diseased brain and spinal cord. We have started to unravel the different signalling mechanisms that trigger specific molecular, morphological and functional changes in reactive astrocytes that are critical for repairing tissue and maintaining function in CNS pathologies, such as neurotrauma, stroke, or neurodegenerative diseases. An increasing body of evidence shows that the effects of astrogliosis on the neural tissue and its functions are not uniform or stereotypic, but vary in a context-specific manner from astrogliosis being an adaptive beneficial response under some circumstances to a maladaptive and deleterious process in another context. There is a growing support for the concept of astrocytopathies in which the disruption of normal astrocyte functions, astrodegeneration or dysfunctional/maladaptive astrogliosis are the primary cause or the main factor in neurological dysfunction and disease. This review describes the multiple roles of astrocytes in the healthy CNS, discusses the diversity of astroglial responses in neurological disorders and argues that targeting astrocytes may represent an effective therapeutic strategy for Alexander disease, neurotrauma, stroke, epilepsy and Alzheimer's disease as well as other neurodegenerative diseases.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)323-45
Number of pages23
JournalActa Neuropathologica
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2016


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