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Berlin - Cambridge

German - US-American Collaboration in Computational Neuroscience

"Role of astrocytes in cortical information processing"

The cortex of higher mammals is comprised of two major cell types, neurons and glia, of which astrocytes are the most numerous subtype. Despite their large number, the function of astrocytes in intact cortical circuits has, until recently, remained unknown. It is now increasingly realized that astrocytes are more than just the "glue" that holds the neurons together. Instead, their complex system of voltage-gated channels, neurotransmitter receptors, transporters,  and neuromodulators suggests that they contribute to communication and information processing in the brain.

The discovery by the American co-operation partner M. Sur, that astrocytes in the intact visual cortex have highly precise responses to visual stimuli and influence the responses of adjacent neurons, leads to the proposal that astrocytes perform an active role in cortical computation. Using computational models of visual cortical networks, researchers of this project investigate the mechanisms through which astrocytes influence the response properties of neurons, guide the development of these properties during the critical period, and contribute to short-term plasticity with the release of "gliotransmitters".

Results are potentially relevant also for understanding neurological diseases (cf. autism, alzheimers disease), for which changes in the coupling between astrocytes and neurons have been implied in some of the aspects of the disease.


The following scientists take part in this collaboration:

  • Mrigangka Sur, Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, MIT, Cambridge, USA
  • Klaus Obermayer,  FR 2-1, Fakultaet IV, TU Berlin, Berlin


German Coordinator:

Prof. Dr. Klaus Obermayer
FR 2-1, Fakultaet IV, TU Berlin      
Franklinstrasse 28/29
10587 Berlin

Phone: +49 (0) 30 / 314-73120
Fax: +49 (0) 30 / 314-73121