Early-life adversity (ELA) in the form of stress, inflammation, or malnutrition, can increase the risk of developing psychopathology or cognitive problems in adulthood. The neurobiological substrates underlying this process remain unclear. While neuronal dysfunction and microglial contribution have been studied in this context, only recently the role of astrocytes in early-life programming of the brain has been appreciated. Astrocytes serve many basic roles for brain functioning (e.g., synaptogenesis, glutamate recycling), and are unique in their capacity of sensing and integrating environmental signals, as they are the first cells to encounter signals from the blood, including hormonal changes (e.g., glucocorticoids), immune signals, and nutritional information. Integration of these signals is especially important during early development, and therefore we propose that astrocytes contribute to ELA induced changes in the brain by sensing and integrating environmental signals and by modulating neuronal development and function. Studies in rodents have already shown that ELA can impact astrocytes on the short and long term, however, a critical review of these results is currently lacking. Here, we will discuss the developmental trajectory of astrocytes, their ability to integrate stress, immune, and nutritional signals from the early environment, and we will review how different types of early adversity impact astrocytes.
- early inflammation
- early malnutrition
- early stress
- maternal separation/deprivation