Anatomical aspects of glia-synapse interaction: the perisynaptic glial sheath consists of a specialized astrocyte compartment.
ABSTRACT Amongst several forms of glia-neuronal communication, glia-synaptic interaction appears particularly interesting in the light of the well-known examples of two-way signaling between neurons and astrocytes. We review recent structural and physiological evidence showing that the structural correlate of glia-synaptic interaction is the peripheral astrocyte process (PAP) positioned next to the synaptic cleft. The structural and functional properties of these processes suggest that the PAP represents a separate astroglial compartment, in particular since it is characterized by the restricted localization of the actin-binding ERM protein ezrin. The structural properties of PAPs and this protein form the basis of rapid morphological changes of PAPs. The physiological relevance of PAP plasticity is illustrated by the example of the suprachiasmatic nucleus, where astrocytes display a high degree of activity-dependent plasticity reflecting circadian time.