Functional roles of reactive astrocytes in neuroinflammation and neurodegeneration
Authors listRickie Patani Giles E Hardingham Shane A Liddelow
Despite advances in uncovering the mechanisms that underlie neuroinflammation and neurodegenerative disease, therapies that prevent neuronal loss remain elusive. Targeting of disease-defining markers in conditions such as Alzheimer disease (amyloid-β and tau) or Parkinson disease (α-synuclein) has been met with limited success, suggesting that these proteins do not act in isolation but form part of a pathological network. This network could involve phenotypic alteration of multiple cell types in the CNS, including astrocytes, which have a major neurosupportive, homeostatic role in the healthy CNS but adopt reactive states under acute or chronic adverse conditions. Transcriptomic studies in human patients and disease models have revealed the co-existence of many putative reactive sub-states of astrocytes. Inter-disease and even intra-disease heterogeneity of reactive astrocytic sub-states are well established, but the extent to which specific sub-states are shared across different diseases is unclear. In this Review, we highlight how single-cell and single-nuclei RNA sequencing and other 'omics' technologies can enable the functional characterization of defined reactive astrocyte states in various pathological scenarios. We provide an integrated perspective, advocating cross-modal validation of key findings to define functionally important sub-states of astrocytes and their triggers as tractable therapeutic targets with cross-disease relevance.