The role of astroglia in neuroprotection
Astrocytes are the main neural cell type responsible for the maintenance of brain homeostasis. They form highly organized anatomical domains that are interconnected into extensive networks. These features, along with the expression of a wide array of receptors, transporters, and ion channels, ideally position them to sense and dynamically modulate neuronal activity. Astrocytes cooperate with neurons on several levels, including neurotransmitter trafficking and recycling, ion homeostasis, energy metabolism, and defense against oxidative stress. The critical dependence of neurons upon their constant support confers astrocytes with intrinsic neuroprotective properties which are discussed here. Conversely, pathogenic stimuli may disturb astrocytic function, thus compromising neuronal functionality and viability. Using neuroinflammation, Alzheimer's disease, and hepatic encephalopathy as examples, we discuss how astrocytic defense mechanisms may be overwhelmed in pathological conditions, contributing to disease progression.