The term 'tripartite synapse' refers to a concept in synaptic physiology based on the demonstration of the existence of bidirectional communication between astrocytes and neurons. Consistent with this concept, in addition to the classic 'bipartite' information flow between the pre- and postsynaptic neurons, astrocytes exchange information with the synaptic neuronal elements, responding to synaptic activity and, in turn, regulating synaptic transmission. Because recent evidence has demonstrated that astrocytes integrate and process synaptic information and control synaptic transmission and plasticity, astrocytes, being active partners in synaptic function, are cellular elements involved in the processing, transfer and storage of information by the nervous system. Consequently, in contrast to the classically accepted paradigm that brain function results exclusively from neuronal activity, there is an emerging view, which we review herein, in which brain function actually arises from the coordinated activity of a network comprising both neurons and glia.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
The authors are supported by grants from Ministerio de Ciencia e Innovación (BFU2007–064764; http://web.micinn.es ), Spain, European Union (HEALTH-F2–2007–202167; http://cordis.europa.eu/fp7 ) and Cajal Blue Brain (A.A.; http://cajalbbp.cesvima.upm.es ). M.N is a predoctoral fellow of the Ministerio de Ciencia e Innovación, Spain.