White matter astrocytes in health and disease

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article


Myelination by oligodendrocytes is a highly specialized process that relies on intimate interactions between the axon and the oligodendrocytes. Astrocytes have an important part in facilitating myelination in the CNS, however, comparatively less is known about how they affect myelination. This review therefore summarizes the literature and explores lingering questions surrounding differences between white matter and gray matter astrocytes, how astrocytes support myelination, how their dysfunction in pathological states contributes to myelin pathologies and how astrocytes may facilitate remyelination. We discuss how astrocytes in the white matter are specialized to promote myelination and myelin maintenance by clearance of extracellular ions and neurotransmitters and by secretion of pro-myelinating factors. Additionally, astrocyte-oligodendrocyte coupling via gap junctions is crucial for both myelin formation and maintenance, due to K+ buffering and possibly metabolic support for oligodendrocytes via the panglial syncytium. Dysfunctional astrocytes aberrantly affect oligodendrocytes, as exemplified by a number of leukodystrophies in which astrocytic pathology is known as the direct cause of myelin pathology. Conversely, in primary demyelinating diseases, such as multiple sclerosis, astrocytes may facilitate remyelination. We suggest that specific manipulation of astrocytes could help prevent myelin pathologies and successfully restore myelin sheaths after demyelination.


  • I. Lundgaard
  • M. J. Osório
  • B. T. Kress
  • S. Sanggaard
  • M. Nedergaard
External organisations
  • University of Rochester
Research areas and keywords


  • Astrocyte heterogeneity, Astrocytes, Myelination, Oligodendrocytes, White matter pathology
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)161-173
Publication statusPublished - 2014 Sep 12
Publication categoryResearch
Externally publishedYes