Astrocytes are complex bushy cells that serve important functions through close contacts between their processes and synapses. However, the spatial interactions and dynamics of astrocyte processes relative to synapses have proven problematic to study in adult living brain tissue. Here, we report a genetically targeted neuron-astrocyte proximity assay (NAPA) to measure astrocyte-synapse spatial interactions within intact brain preparations and at synaptic distance scales. The method exploits resonance energy transfer between extracellularly displayed fluorescent proteins targeted to synapses and astrocyte processes. We validated the method in the striatal microcircuitry following in vivo expression. We determined the proximity of striatal astrocyte processes to distinct neuronal input pathways, to D1 and D2 medium spiny neuron synapses, and we evaluated how astrocyte-to-excitatory synapse proximity changed following cortical afferent stimulation, during ischemia and in a model of Huntington's disease. NAPA provides a simple approach to measure astrocyte-synapse spatial interactions in a variety of experimental scenarios. VIDEO ABSTRACT.
Astrocytes are ubiquitous in the brain and are widely held to be largely identical. However, this view has not been fully tested, and the possibility that astrocytes are neural circuit specialized remains largely unexplored. Here, we used multiple integrated approaches, including RNA sequencing (RNA-seq), mass spectrometry, electrophysiology, immunohistochemistry, serial block-face-scanning electron microscopy, morphological reconstructions, pharmacogenetics, and diffusible dye, calcium, and glutamate imaging, to directly compare adult striatal and hippocampal astrocytes under identical conditions. We found significant differences in electrophysiological properties, Ca2+ signaling, morphology, and astrocyte-synapse proximity between striatal and hippocampal astrocytes. Unbiased evaluation of actively translated RNA and proteomic data confirmed significant astrocyte diversity between hippocampal and striatal circuits. We thus report core astrocyte properties, reveal evidence for specialized astrocytes within neural circuits, and provide new, integrated database resources and approaches to explore astrocyte diversity and function throughout the adult brain. VIDEO ABSTRACT.