Classically, the loss of vulnerable neuronal populations in neurodegenerative diseases was considered to be the consequence of cell autonomous degeneration of neurons. However, progress in the understanding of glial function, the availability of improved animal models recapitulating the features of the human diseases, and the development of new approaches to derive glia and neurons from induced pluripotent stem cells obtained from patients, provided novel information that altered this view. Current evidence strongly supports the notion that non-cell autonomous mechanisms contribute to the demise of neurons in neurodegenerative disorders, and glia causally participate in the pathogenesis and progression of these diseases. In addition to microglia, astrocytes have emerged as key players in neurodegenerative diseases and will be the focus of the present review. Under the influence of pathological stimuli present in the microenvironment of the diseased CNS, astrocytes undergo morphological, transcriptional, and functional changes and become reactive. Reactive astrocytes are heterogeneous and exhibit neurotoxic (A1) or neuroprotective (A2) phenotypes. In recent years, single-cell or single-nucleus transcriptome analyses unraveled new, disease-specific phenotypes beyond A1/A2. These investigations highlighted the complexity of the astrocytic responses to CNS pathology. The present review will discuss the contribution of astrocytes to neurodegenerative diseases with particular emphasis on Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and frontotemporal dementia. Some of the commonalties and differences in astrocyte-mediated mechanisms that possibly drive the pathogenesis or progression of the diseases will be summarized. The emerging view is that astrocytes are potential new targets for therapeutic interventions. A comprehensive understanding of astrocyte heterogeneity and disease-specific phenotypic complexity could facilitate the design of novel strategies to treat neurodegenerative disorders.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Molecular Biology
- Clinical Neurology
- Developmental Biology
- Alzheimer's disease
- Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis
- Parkinson's disease