Astrocytes and Circadian Rhythms: An Emerging Astrocyte–Neuron Synergy in the Timekeeping System
Animals have an internal timekeeping system to anticipate daily changes associated with the transition of day to night, which is deeply involved in the regulation and maintenance of behavioral and physiological processes. Prevailing knowledge associated the control of circadian clocks to a network of neurons in the central pacemaker, the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN), but astrocytes are rapidly emerging as key cellular contributors to the timekeeping system. However, how these glial cells impact the neuronal clock to modulate rhythmic neurobehavioral outputs just begin to be investigated. Astrocyte–neuron cocultures are an excellent exploratory method to further characterize the critical role of circadian communication between nerve cells, as well as to address the role of astrocytes as modulators and targets of neuronal rhythmic behaviors. Here, we describe a robust method to study astrocyte rhythmic interactions with neurons by coculturing them with primary neurons in physically separated layers. This simple coculture system provides hints on in vivo signaling processes. Moreover, it allows investigating cell-type specific effects separately as well as the identification of extracellular astrocytic or neuronal factors involved in rhythm generation in both cell types.
Key wordsCircadian rhythms Astrocytes Neurons Coculture Clock genes
We thank M. Nanni and C. Chiabrera for their excellent support with the neuronal cultures. This work was supported by Fondazione Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia and by the European Research Executive Agency (REA) through the FP7-PEOPLE-2014-IEF “ASTROCLOCK” (629867) and Fondazione CARIPLO research grant (2015-0590).
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