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Neural Plasticity
Volume 2015 (2015), Article ID 765792, 11 pages
Review Article

Plasticity of Neuron-Glial Transmission: Equipping Glia for Long-Term Integration of Network Activity

School of Life Sciences, University of Nottingham Medical School, Nottingham NG7 2UH, UK

Received 30 January 2015; Accepted 11 June 2015

Academic Editor: Long-Jun Wu

Copyright © 2015 Wayne Croft et al. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


The capacity of synaptic networks to express activity-dependent changes in strength and connectivity is essential for learning and memory processes. In recent years, glial cells (most notably astrocytes) have been recognized as active participants in the modulation of synaptic transmission and synaptic plasticity, implicating these electrically nonexcitable cells in information processing in the brain. While the concept of bidirectional communication between neurons and glia and the mechanisms by which gliotransmission can modulate neuronal function are well established, less attention has been focussed on the computational potential of neuron-glial transmission itself. In particular, whether neuron-glial transmission is itself subject to activity-dependent plasticity and what the computational properties of such plasticity might be has not been explored in detail. In this review, we summarize current examples of plasticity in neuron-glial transmission, in many brain regions and neurotransmitter pathways. We argue that induction of glial plasticity typically requires repetitive neuronal firing over long time periods (minutes-hours) rather than the short-lived, stereotyped trigger typical of canonical long-term potentiation. We speculate that this equips glia with a mechanism for monitoring average firing rates in the synaptic network, which is suited to the longer term roles proposed for astrocytes in neurophysiology.