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Glial and neuronal plasticity: structure-function relationships

Head: Jun.-Prof. Dr. Christian Henneberger

The lab website can be found HERE. For general information see below.

Morphological plasticity of astrocytes in response to neuronal activity and its functional consequences are the main focus of the group. Non-neuronal cells such as glia are traditionally believed to only provide structural and metabolic support to neurons. This view has been challenged on the basis of several findings. Glial cells, specifically so called astrocytes, can release a number of active signaling molecules that potentially influence neuron function (e.g. synaptic transmission). They also respond to neuronal activity. It is therefore conceivable that astrocytes mediate a non-neuronal signaling that modulates neuronal circuit function.

Structurally, astrocytes appear to be particularly potent modulators of synapse function. They occupy clearly delineated tissue domains in which their processes branch out excessively and thereby create a fine meshwork into which synapses are embedded. Fine astrocyte processes are in close contact with thousands of synapses thus providing signaling molecules released from astrocytes with direct access to synapses. Astrocyte structure could therefore represent an important aspect of neuron-glia signaling.

We investigate astrocyte structure and how it responds to different stimuli by combining two-photon excitation fluorescence imaging with electrophysiology and various stimulation techniques (see image, sample astrocyte dialyzed with a morphological marker through a patch pipette). Ultimately we aim to understand how astrocyte structure and its changes determine the properties of hippocampal neuronal networks and in particular of synaptic transmission and its long-term plasticity.
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