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The language of astrocytes: multilevel analysis to understand astrocyte communication and its role in memory-related brain operations and in cognitive behavior (astromnesis)
Start date: Feb 1, 2014, End date: Jan 31, 2019 PROJECT  FINISHED 

In the 90s, two landmark observations brought to a paradigm shift about the role of astrocytes in brain function: 1) astrocytes respond to signals coming from other cells with transient Ca2+ elevations; 2) Ca2+ transients in astrocytes trigger release of neuroactive and vasoactive agents. Since then, many modulatory astrocytic actions and mechanisms were described, forming a complex - partly contradictory - picture, in which the exact roles and modes of astrocyte action remain ill defined. Our project wants to bring light into the “language of astrocytes”, i.e. into how they communicate with neurons and, ultimately, address their role in brain computations and cognitive behavior. To this end we will perform 4 complementary levels of analysis using highly innovative methodologies in order to obtain unprecedented results. We will study: 1) the subcellular organization of astrocytes underlying local microdomain communications by use of correlative light-electron microscopy; 2) the way individual astrocytes integrate inputs and control synaptic ensembles using 3D two-photon imaging, genetically-encoded Ca2+ indicators, optogenetics and electrophysiology; 3) the contribution of astrocyte ensembles to behavior-relevant circuit operations using miniaturized microscopes capturing neuronal/astrocytic population dynamics in freely-moving mice during memory tests; 4) the contribution of astrocytic signalling mechanisms to cognitive behavior using a set of new mouse lines with conditional, astrocyte-specific genetic modification of signalling pathways. We expect that this combination of groundbreaking ideas, innovative technologies and multilevel analysis makes our project highly attractive to the neuroscience community at large, bridging aspects of molecular, cellular, systems and behavioral neuroscience, with the goal of leading from a provocative hypothesis to the conclusive demonstration of whether and how “the language of astrocytes” participates in memory and cognition.
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