Glia, an active synaptic partner: from brain physiology to neuropsychiatric disorders
Our group studies astrocyte-neuron communication and its contribution to brain performance and the pathogenesis of brain diseases.
Two landmark observations in the 90s have changed our view on astrocytes: 1) astrocytes respond to signals from other cells with Ca2+ elevations; 2) Ca2+ transients in astrocytes trigger release of neuroactive and vasoactive molecules.
Today astrocytes are not seen any more as support cells with no direct role in neuronal computations, but rather emerge as local communication elements, generating a variety of regulatory signals and bridging neuronal and vascular networks otherwise disconnected from each other.
Our lab has provided some of the seminal evidence on the active communication properties of astrocytes and their contribution to normal and pathological brain processes (see selected publications).
Our present focus is in decoding the "language of astrocytes", i.e., how they communicate with neurons and other cells, and ultimately address their role in cognition. We perform multi-level analysis with an array of innovative approaches including correlative light-electron microscopy, 3D two photon imaging, super-resolution STED microscopy, miniaturized microscopes in behaving mice, virtual reality, astrocyte-specific mouse genetics, genetically-encoded Ca2+ indicators, optogenetics, together with more classical techniques.
Thereby, we expect to understand how astrocytes participate in learning and memory, and how their alterations contribute to neuropsychiatric disorders, from Alzheimer's disease, to epilepsy, multiple sclerosis and mood disorders, with the goal of identifying new therapeutic avenues.