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Does Global Astrocytic Calcium Signaling Participate in Awake Brain State Transitions and Neuronal Circuit Function?

ABSTRACT

We continuously need to adapt to changing conditions within our surrounding environment, and our brain needs to quickly shift between resting and working activity states in order to allow appropriate behaviors. These global state shifts are intimately linked to the brain-wide release of the neuromodulators, noradrenaline and acetylcholine. Astrocytes have emerged as a new player participating in the regulation of brain activity, and have recently been implicated in brain state shifts. Astrocytes display global Ca(2+) signaling in response to activation of the noradrenergic system, but whether astrocytic Ca(2+) signaling is causative or correlative for shifts in brain state and neural activity patterns is not known. Here we review the current available literature on astrocytic Ca(2+) signaling in awake animals in order to explore the role of astrocytic signaling in brain state shifts. Furthermore, we look at the development and availability of innovative new methodological tools that are opening up for new ways of visualizing and perturbing astrocyte activity in awake behaving animals. With these new tools at hand, the field of astrocyte research will likely be able to elucidate the causal and mechanistic roles of astrocytes in complex behaviors within a very near future.