Editors' ChoiceNeuroscience

Astrocytes, ATP, Brainstem, and Breathing

Sci. Signal.  03 Aug 2010:
Vol. 3, Issue 133, pp. ec240
DOI: 10.1126/scisignal.3133ec240

Astrocytes (or glial cells), previously assumed to be passive players in brain physiology, may play a functional role in a number of complex behaviors. The central chemosensory control of breathing involves highly specialized neuronal populations in the brainstem, but what about astrocytes? Gourine et al. now present evidence that glial cells may help to control breathing. A number of techniques were used to reveal glial calcium rises in vitro that elicit a depolarization of neurons in the primary locus for central respiratory chemosensitivity. The depolarization in these neurons is evoked by vesicular release of ATP in neighboring astrocytes in response to the fall in extracellular pH. Thus, brainstem astrocytes have the ability to sense changes in blood and brain CO2, and pH directly, and may control the activity of the respiratory neuronal networks to regulate breathing.

A. V. Gourine, V. Kasymov, N. Marina, F. Tang, M. F. Figueiredo, S. Lane, A. G. Teschemacher, K. M. Spyer, K. Deisseroth, S. Kasparov, Astrocytes control breathing through pH-dependent release of ATP. Science 329, 571–575 (2010). [Abstract] [Full Text]