In the past two decades, over 1000 clinical trials have failed to demonstrate a benefit in treating stroke, with the exception of thrombolytics. Although many targets have been pursued, including antioxidants, calcium channel blockers, glutamate receptor blockers, and neurotrophic factors, often the focus has been on neuronal mechanisms of injury. Broader attention to loss and dysfunction of non-neuronal cell types is now required to increase the chance of success. Of the several glial cell types, this review will focus on astrocytes. Astrocytes are the most abundant cell type in the higher mammalian nervous system, and they play key roles in normal CNS physiology and in central nervous system injury and pathology. In the setting of ischemia astrocytes perform multiple functions, some beneficial and some potentially detrimental, making them excellent candidates as therapeutic targets to improve outcome following stroke and in other central nervous system injuries. The older neurocentric view of the central nervous system has changed radically with the growing understanding of the many essential functions of astrocytes. These include K+ buffering, glutamate clearance, brain antioxidant defense, close metabolic coupling with neurons, and modulation of neuronal excitability. In this review, we will focus on those functions of astrocytes that can both protect and endanger neurons, and discuss how manipulating these functions provides a novel and important strategy to enhance neuronal survival and improve outcome following cerebral ischemia.
Keywords: Brain ischemia, astrocytes, neurons, inflammation, neuroprotection, clinical trials, ictus, mitochondria, stress, innate immunity, IRF3, lipopolysaccharide (LPS), microglia, middle cerebral artery occlusion, chromatin, intracerebral hemorrhage (ICH), cerebral ischemia (CI), apoptosis, neuroinflammation, excitotoxicity, oxidative stress, neurotrophin, neurogenesis, histone acetylation, nortriptyline, resveratrol, hormonal therapy, estrogen and progesterone