Resource Details

Glial Intercellular Waves

Andrew Charles*

Department of Neurology, David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, 710 Westwood Plaza, Los Angeles, CA 90095, USA.


*Contact information. E-mail: acharles{at}


This animation depicts long-range astrocyte calcium, sodium, and metabolic waves.

Glial cells have long been assigned a supporting role in the nervous system, in which they help maintain and modulate neuronal metabolism. However, recent attention has focused on the ability of astrocytes to propagate long-range calcium signals and actively communicate with each other, as well as with neurons and vascular cells. Synaptic activity in neurons triggers an increase in the intracellular calcium concentration ([Ca2+]i) of neighboring astrocytes, stimulating the release of ATP and glutamate. The released ATP stimulates an increase in [Ca2+]i in neighboring astrocytes so that a �calcium wave� is propagated from cell to cell. Released glutamate is cotransported with Na+ into neighboring cells; thus, glutamate uptake leads to an increase in astrocyte intracellular sodium concentration ([Na+]i) that is also propagated from cell to cell. This increase in [Na+]i stimulates an increase in glucose uptake and metabolism that leads to the formation of lactate, which is delivered to nearby--and perhaps distant--neurons as an energy substrate. Thus, long-range intercellular calcium signaling in astrocytes may enable them to spatially coordinate their function in supporting neuronal metabolism.

Once you have clicked the screen to start the animation, you can advance through the animation or replay a frame by clicking the green arrowheads in the lower right corner. Cameron Slayden created this animation under the scientific oversight of Andrew Charles.

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Educational Details

Learning Resource Type: Shockwave Flash Animation

Context: Undergraduate upper division, graduate, professional (degree program)

Intended Users: Teacher, learner

Intended Educational Use: Teach, learn

Discipline: Physiology, Neurobiology

Keywords: Glia, Astrocytes, Ca2+ Waves, Glutamate, Lactate

Technical Details

Format: Shockwave Flash Object (swf file)

Size: 103 kb

Requirements: This animation will play with Macromedia Flash 5 ( or higher.

Limits for Use

Cost: Free

Rights: This material may be downloaded for noncommercial, course-teaching purposes only, provided credit to STKE is included by listing the citation for the Teaching Resource.


Citation: A. Charles, Glial intercellular waves. Sci STKE2005, tr19 (2005).

© 2005 American Association for the Advancement of Science