- Investigating the Role of Astrocyte Signaling in Brain Function
Approximately 50% of the mammalian brain is composed of astrocytes. These cells are present in every region of brain, are always closely associated with neuronal elements, and exhibit a wide variety of morphological phenotypes and neurotransmitter receptors. It is striking that while these cells constitute the largest single population of cells in brain, we know very little concerning their role in brain function. Many neurobiologists believe that astrocytes play a critical role in buffering extracellular potassium levels within the narrow range required for neuronal activity. Similarly, astrocytes are thought important in removing glutamate following its release at neuronal synapses.
A primary goal of our laboratory is to determine how astrocytes and neurons are signaling one another and the functional outcome of neuron astrocyte conversation. Our working hypothesis is that there are microdomains within astrocytic syncytium that interact with neuronal synapses to facilitate or to dampen neuronal excitability and/or neurotransmission. Through a combination of 2-photon imaging in live animals, electrophysiological, and behavioral studies using genetically-engineered mice we hope to begin unraveling the role of these cells in neurophysiology and disease.