Front. Comput. Neurosci., 21 December 2012 | doi: 10.3389/fncom.2012.00098

Computational quest for understanding the role of astrocyte signaling in synaptic transmission and plasticity

  • 1School of Physics and Astronomy, Tel Aviv University, Ramat Aviv, Israel
  • 2Center for Theoretical Biological Physics, University of California at San Diego, La Jolla, CA, USA
  • 3Computational Neurobiology Laboratory, The Salk Institute, La Jolla, CA, USA
  • 4L-3 Applied Technologies: Simulation, Engineering and Testing, San Diego, CA, USA
  • 5BEAGLE, INRIA Rhône-Alpes, Université de Lyon, LIRIS, UMR5205, Villeurbanne, France
  • 6Department of Neurobiology, University of Alabama, Birmingham, AL, USA
  • 7Department of Biotechnology, University or Rijeka, Rijeka, Croatia
  • 8Department of Basic Neurosciences, University of Lausanne, Lausanne, Switzerland
  • 9Center for Theoretical Biological Physics, Rice University, Houston, TX, USA
  • 10Research and Development Unit, Assaf Harofeh Medical Center, Zerifin, Israel

The complexity of the signaling network that underlies astrocyte-synapse interactions may seem discouraging when tackled from a theoretical perspective. Computational modeling is challenged by the fact that many details remain hitherto unknown and conventional approaches to describe synaptic function are unsuitable to explain experimental observations when astrocytic signaling is taken into account. Supported by experimental evidence is the possibility that astrocytes perform genuine information processing by means of their calcium signaling and are players in the physiological setting of the basal tone of synaptic transmission. Here we consider the plausibility of this scenario from a theoretical perspective, focusing on the modulation of synaptic release probability by the astrocyte and its implications on synaptic plasticity. The analysis of the signaling pathways underlying such modulation refines our notion of tripartite synapse and has profound implications on our understanding of brain function.

Keywords: astrocyte-synapse interactions, astrocyte modeling, calcium signaling, calcium encoding, gliotransmission, synaptic plasticity, metaplasticity, cortical maps

Citation: De Pittà M, Volman V, Berry H, Parpura V, Volterra A, and Ben-Jacob E (2012) Computational quest for understanding the role of astrocyte signaling in synaptic transmission and plasticity. Front. Comput. Neurosci. 6:98. doi: 10.3389/fncom.2012.00098

Received: 23 April 2012; Paper pending published: 28 May 2012;
Accepted: 06 December 2012; Published online: 21 December 2012.

Edited by:

Liam J. McDaid, University of Ulster, UK

Reviewed by:

Florentin Wörgötter, University Goettingen, Germany
Vladimir Brezina, Mount Sinai School of Medicine, USA

Copyright © 2012 De Pittà, Volman, Berry, Parpura, Volterra, and Ben-Jacob. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in other forums, provided the original authors and source are credited and subject to any copyright notices concerning any third-party graphics etc.

*Correspondence: Maurizio De Pittà and Eshel Ben-Jacob, School of Physics and Astronomy, Tel Aviv University, 69978 Ramat Aviv, Israel. e-mail:;

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