Gliocrine system: Astroglia as secretory cells of the CNS

Nina Vardjan, Vladimir Parpura, Alexei Verkhratsky, Robert Zorec

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


Astrocytes are secretory cells, actively participating in cell-to-cell communication in the central nervous system (CNS). They sense signaling molecules in the extracellular space, around the nearby synapses and also those released at much farther locations in the CNS, by their cell surface receptors, get excited to then release their own signaling molecules. This contributes to the brain information processing, based on diffusion within the extracellular space around the synapses and on convection when locales relatively far away from the release sites are involved. These functions resemble secretion from endocrine cells, therefore astrocytes were termed to be a part of the gliocrine system in 2015. An important mechanism, by which astrocytes release signaling molecules is the merger of the vesicle membrane with the plasmalemma, i.e., exocytosis. Signaling molecules stored in astroglial secretory vesicles can be discharged into the extracellular space after the vesicle membrane fuses with the plasma membrane. This leads to a fusion pore formation, a channel that must widen to allow the exit of the Vesiclal cargo. Upon complete vesicle membrane fusion, this process also integrates other proteins, such as receptors, transporters and channels into the plasma membrane, determining astroglial surface signaling landscape. Vesiclal cargo, together with the whole vesicle can also exit astrocytes by the fusion of multivesicular bodies with the plasma membrane (exosomes) or by budding of vesicles (ectosomes) from the plasma membrane into the extracellular space. These astroglia-derived extracellular vesicles can later interact with various target cells. Here, the characteristics of four types of astroglial secretory vesicles: synaptic-like microvesicles, dense-core vesicles, secretory lysosomes, and extracellular vesicles, are discussed. Then machinery for vesicle-based exocytosis, second messenger regulation and the kinetics of exocytotic vesicle content discharge or release of extracellular vesicles are considered. In comparison to rapidly responsive, electrically excitable neurons, the receptor-mediated cytosolic excitability-mediated astroglial exocytotic vesicle-based transmitter release is a relatively slow process.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationNeuroglia in Neurodegenerative Diseases
EditorsAlexia Verkhratsky, Margaret S. Ho, Robert Zorec, Vladimir Parpura
PublisherSpringer Nature
Number of pages23
ISBN (Electronic)978-981-13-9913-8
ISBN (Print)978-981-13-9912-1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2019

Publication series

NameAdvances in Experimental Medicine and Biology
ISSN (Print)0065-2598
ISSN (Electronic)2214-8019


  • Astrocytes
  • Exocytosis
  • Fusion pore
  • Gliocrine system
  • Secretory vesicles


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