Astroglial cells are truly multipotent and serve a surprizingly large and diverse variety of functions. These functions are absolutely vital for brain development, physiology and pathology.

Conceptually astroglial functions can be divided into several important groups:

Functions of astroglia

1. Developmental

• Regulation of neuro and gliogenesis - astroglia are stem elements of the CNS.

• Neuronal path finding.

• Regulation of synaptogenesis.

2. Structural

• Astroglia form the scaffold of the nervous system, thus defining the functional architecture of the brain and spinal cord.

• Astrocytes form a continuous syncytium and integrate other neural cells into this syncytium.

3. Vascular - formation and regulation of the blood-brain barrier

• Formation of the glial-vascular interface.

• Regulation of cerebral microcirculation.

4. Metabolic

• Providing energy substrates for neurones.

• Collecting neuronal waste.

5. Control of the CNS microenvironment

• Regulation of extracellular ion concentrations; in particular sequestration and redistribution of K+ following fluctuations associated with neuronal activity.

• Regulation of extracellular pH.

Glial Neurobiology: A Textbook Alexei Verkhratsky and Arthur Butt © 2007 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd ISBN 978-0-470-01564-3 (HB); 978-0-470-51740-6 (PB)

• Removal of neurotransmitters from the extracellular space.

• Brain water homeostasis.

6. Signalling

• Modulation of synaptic transmission.

• Release of neurotransmitters.

• Long-range signalling within the glial syncytium.

• Integration of neuronal-glial networks.

These functions are explained in more detail below.

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