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Concept: Astrocyte


Culture-based blood-brain barrier (BBB) models are crucial tools to enable rapid screening of brain-penetrating drugs. However, reproducibility of in vitro barrier properties and permeability remain as major challenges. Here, we report that self-assembling multicellular BBB spheroids display reproducible BBB features and functions. The spheroid core is comprised mainly of astrocytes, while brain endothelial cells and pericytes encase the surface, acting as a barrier that regulates transport of molecules. The spheroid surface exhibits high expression of tight junction proteins, VEGF-dependent permeability, efflux pump activity and receptor-mediated transcytosis of angiopep-2. In contrast, the transwell co-culture system displays comparatively low levels of BBB regulatory proteins, and is unable to discriminate between the transport of angiopep-2 and a control peptide. Finally, we have utilized the BBB spheroids to screen and identify BBB-penetrant cell-penetrating peptides (CPPs). This robust in vitro BBB model could serve as a valuable next-generation platform for expediting the development of CNS therapeutics.

Concepts: Protein, Brain, Angiogenesis, Peptide bond, Brain tumor, Peptide, Astrocyte, Blood-brain barrier


Motoneuron loss and reactive astrocytosis are pathological hallmarks of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a paralytic neurodegenerative disease that can be triggered by mutations in Cu-Zn superoxide dismutase (SOD1). Dysfunctional astrocytes contribute to ALS pathogenesis, inducing motoneuron damage and accelerating disease progression. However, it is unknown whether ALS progression is associated with the appearance of a specific astrocytic phenotype with neurotoxic potential. Here, we report the isolation of astrocytes with aberrant phenotype (referred as “AbA cells”) from primary spinal cord cultures of symptomatic rats expressing the SOD1(G93A) mutation. Isolation was based on AbA cells' marked proliferative capacity and lack of replicative senescence, which allowed oligoclonal cell expansion for 1 y. AbA cells displayed astrocytic markers including glial fibrillary acidic protein, S100β protein, glutamine synthase, and connexin 43 but lacked glutamate transporter 1 and the glial progenitor marker NG2 glycoprotein. Notably, AbA cells secreted soluble factors that induced motoneuron death with a 10-fold higher potency than neonatal SOD1(G93A) astrocytes. AbA-like aberrant astrocytes expressing S100β and connexin 43 but lacking NG2 were identified in nearby motoneurons, and their number increased sharply after disease onset. Thus, AbA cells appear to be an as-yet unknown astrocyte population arising during ALS progression with unprecedented proliferative and neurotoxic capacity and may be potential cellular targets for slowing ALS progression.

Concepts: Superoxide dismutase, Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Gap junction, Glutamate transporter, Astrocyte, Excitotoxicity, Glial fibrillary acidic protein, SOD1


Exposure to a mixture of As, Pb and Cd induces apoptosis and morphological alterations in the cortical astrocytes of rat brain. The levels of the glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP) undergo a reduction. The GFAP exists in several isoforms, viz., α, β, κ, δ and ϵ. However, contribution of the isoforms towards astrocyte damage is not understood. We investigated the effect of the metal mixture (MM) on the expression profiles of mRNAs encoding the GFAP isoforms in astrocytes. The MM was administered in drinking water to developing rats till postnatal day (PD) 60. We observed a fall (10.20 ± 1.04%, 18.91 ± 2.12% and 30.26 ± 3.21% at PD24, PD45 and PD60 respectively) in GFAPα. This may have been compensated by a rise in β, κ, and ϵ. The GFAPδ remained unchanged. To determine the role of the GFAPα, we silenced its gene using SiRNA technology in the rat primary astrocytes. We observed a 23.73 ± 1.56% increase in the number of apoptotic cells. The cleaved PARP and Bax levels increased by 2.48 ± 0.14-fold and 3.73 ± 0.23-fold respectively, and the Bcl-2 and Bcl-xl decreased by 2.38 ± 0.08-fold and 1.76 ± 0.09-fold respectively. The change was comparable to the cells treated with MM. Moreover, silencing the GFAPα gene induced a reduction in the area (6.19 ± 0.18-folds), perimeter (12.65 ± 1.68-folds) and the number of processes (5.88 ± 1.5-folds) in the astrocytes, which closely matched the MM-treated ones. Taken together, these observations are the first to show that MM disturbs the composition of the GFAP isoforms, and a suppressed GFAPα promotes apoptosis in the matured rat astrocytes.

Concepts: Protein, Apoptosis, Rat, Astrocyte, Bcl-2, BH3 interacting domain death agonist, Heavy metal music, Glial fibrillary acidic protein


As more evidence points to a clear role for astrocytes in synaptic processing, synaptogenesis and cognition, continuing research on astrocytic function could lead to strategies for neurodegenerative disease prevention. Reactive astrogliosis results in astrocyte proliferation early in injury and disease states and is considered neuroprotective, indicating a role for astrocytes in disease etiology. This review describes the different types of human cortical astrocytes and the current evidence regarding adult cortical astrogenesis in injury and degenerative disease. A role for disrupted astrogenesis as a cause of cortical degeneration, with a focus on the tauopathies and synucleinopathies, will also be considered.

Concepts: Neurology, Neurodegeneration, Neurodegenerative disorders, Astrocyte, Neurodegenerative diseases


Yes-associated protein (YAP) is a key transcriptional cofactor of the Hippo pathway, critical for the development of multiple organs. However, its role in the developing brain remains poorly understood. Here, we found that YAP was highly expressed in astrocytes and YAP deletion elevated the astrocytic activation in culture and in vivo, which was associated with microglial activation. At the molecular level, YAP in astrocytes was activated by IFNβ or ciliary neurotrophic factor (CNTF), which was necessary for IFNβ or CNTF induction of the suppressor of cytokine signaling 3 (SOCS3), a negative regulator of the Janus kinase-signal transducer and activator of transcription (JAK-STAT) inflammatory pathway. YAP(-/-) astrocytes thus showed hyperactivation of the JAK-STAT inflammatory pathway and reactive astrogliosis. Expression of SOCS3 in YAP(-/-) astrocytes prevented the hyperactivation of STAT3 and partially restored the astrocytic activation. Finally, reactive astrogliosis was associated with blood-brain barrier dysfunction in YAP brain-selective knockout mice. Taken together, these results identify unrecognized functions of YAP in preventing reactive astrogliosis and reveal a pathway of YAP-SOCS for the negatively control of neuroinflammation.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Gene expression, Transcription, Molecular biology, Astrocyte, Neurotrophins, Blood-brain barrier


Previously (Forsberg et al., 2016), we revealed that prostaglandin E2 (PGE2), released during hypercapnic challenge, increases calcium oscillations in the chemosensitive parafacial respiratory group (pFRG/RTN). Here, we demonstrate that pFRG/RTN astrocytes are the PGE2 source. Two distinct astrocyte subtypes were found using transgenic mice expressing GFP and MrgA1 receptors in astrocytes. Although most astrocytes appeared dormant during time-lapse calcium imaging, a subgroup displayed persistent, rhythmic oscillating calcium activity. These active astrocytes formed a subnetwork within the respiratory network distinct from the neuronal network. Activation of exogenous MrgA1Rs expressed in astrocytes tripled astrocytic calcium oscillation frequency in both the preBötzinger complex and pFRG/RTN. However, neurons in the preBötC were unaffected, whereas neuronal calcium oscillatory frequency in pFRG/RTN doubled. Notably, astrocyte activation in pFRG/RTN triggered local PGE2 release and blunted the hypercapnic response. Thus, astrocytes play an active role in respiratory rhythm modulation, modifying respiratory-related behavior through PGE2 release in the pFRG/RTN.

Concepts: Nervous system, Neuron, Oscillation, Wave, Gap junction, Astrocyte, Prostaglandin E2, Prostaglandin


We report that astrocytic insulin signaling co-regulates hypothalamic glucose sensing and systemic glucose metabolism. Postnatal ablation of insulin receptors (IRs) in glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP)-expressing cells affects hypothalamic astrocyte morphology, mitochondrial function, and circuit connectivity. Accordingly, astrocytic IR ablation reduces glucose-induced activation of hypothalamic pro-opio-melanocortin (POMC) neurons and impairs physiological responses to changes in glucose availability. Hypothalamus-specific knockout of astrocytic IRs, as well as postnatal ablation by targeting glutamate aspartate transporter (GLAST)-expressing cells, replicates such alterations. A normal response to altering directly CNS glucose levels in mice lacking astrocytic IRs indicates a role in glucose transport across the blood-brain barrier (BBB). This was confirmed in vivo in GFAP-IR KO mice by using positron emission tomography and glucose monitoring in cerebral spinal fluid. We conclude that insulin signaling in hypothalamic astrocytes co-controls CNS glucose sensing and systemic glucose metabolism via regulation of glucose uptake across the BBB.

Concepts: Protein, Nutrition, Mitochondrion, Positron emission tomography, Blood sugar, Astrocyte, Glial fibrillary acidic protein, Blood-brain barrier


Astrocyte responses to neuronal injury may be beneficial or detrimental to neuronal recovery, but the mechanisms that determine these different responses are poorly understood. Here we show that ephrin type-B receptor 1 (EphB1) is upregulated in injured motor neurons, which in turn can activate astrocytes through ephrin-B1-mediated stimulation of signal transducer and activator of transcription-3 (STAT3). Transcriptional analysis shows that EphB1 induces a protective and anti-inflammatory signature in astrocytes, partially linked to the STAT3 network. This is distinct from the response evoked by interleukin (IL)-6 that is known to induce both pro inflammatory and anti-inflammatory processes. Finally, we demonstrate that the EphB1-ephrin-B1 pathway is disrupted in human stem cell derived astrocyte and mouse models of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Our work identifies an early neuronal help-me signal that activates a neuroprotective astrocytic response, which fails in ALS, and therefore represents an attractive therapeutic target.

Concepts: Nervous system, Gene expression, Stem cell, Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Gap junction, Glutamate transporter, Astrocyte, Induced demand


In vivo studies of human brain cellular function face challenging ethical and practical difficulties. Animal models are typically used but display distinct cellular differences. One specific example is astrocytes, recently recognized for contribution to neurological diseases and a link to the genetic risk factor apolipoprotein E (APOE). Current astrocytic in vitro models are questioned for lack of biological characterization. Here, we report human induced pluripotent stem cell (hiPSC)-derived astroglia (NES-Astro) developed under defined conditions through long-term neuroepithelial-like stem (ltNES) cells. We characterized NES-Astro and astrocytic models from primary sources, astrocytoma (CCF-STTG1), and hiPSCs through transcriptomics, proteomics, glutamate uptake, inflammatory competence, calcium signaling response, and APOE secretion. Finally, we assess modulation of astrocyte biology using APOE-annotated compounds, confirming hits of the cholesterol biosynthesis pathway in adult and hiPSC-derived astrocytes. Our data show large diversity among astrocytic models and emphasize a cellular context when studying astrocyte biology.

Concepts: Nervous system, Stem cell, Cell biology, Induced pluripotent stem cell, Glutamate transporter, Astrocyte, Blood-brain barrier, Radial glia


Enhanced bursting activity of neurons in the lateral habenula (LHb) is essential in driving depression-like behaviours, but the cause of this increase has been unknown. Here, using a high-throughput quantitative proteomic screen, we show that an astroglial potassium channel (Kir4.1) is upregulated in the LHb in rat models of depression. Kir4.1 in the LHb shows a distinct pattern of expression on astrocytic membrane processes that wrap tightly around the neuronal soma. Electrophysiology and modelling data show that the level of Kir4.1 on astrocytes tightly regulates the degree of membrane hyperpolarization and the amount of bursting activity of LHb neurons. Astrocyte-specific gain and loss of Kir4.1 in the LHb bidirectionally regulates neuronal bursting and depression-like symptoms. Together, these results show that a glia-neuron interaction at the perisomatic space of LHb is involved in setting the neuronal firing mode in models of a major psychiatric disease. Kir4.1 in the LHb might have potential as a target for treating clinical depression.

Concepts: Nervous system, Psychology, Neuron, Action potential, Serotonin, Gap junction, Astrocyte, Membrane potential