Neuronal and Astrocytic Regulations in Schizophrenia: A Computational Modelling Study

Lea Fritschi, Johanna Hedlund Lindmar, Florian Scheidl, Kerstin Lenk*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


According to the tripartite synapse model, astrocytes have a modulatory effect on neuronal signal transmission. More recently, astrocyte malfunction has been associated with psychiatric diseases such as schizophrenia. Several hypotheses have been proposed on the pathological mechanisms of astrocytes in schizophrenia. For example, post-mortem examinations have revealed a reduced astrocytic density in patients with schizophrenia. Another hypothesis suggests that disease symptoms are linked to an abnormality of glutamate transmission, which is also regulated by astrocytes (glutamate hypothesis of schizophrenia). Electrophysiological findings indicate a dispute over whether the disorder causes an increase or a decrease in neuronal and astrocytic activity. Moreover, there is no consensus as to which molecular pathways and network mechanisms are altered in schizophrenia. Computational models can aid the process in finding the underlying pathological malfunctions. The effect of astrocytes on the activity of neuron-astrocyte networks has been analysed with computational models. These can reproduce experimentally observed phenomena, such as astrocytic modulation of spike and burst signalling in neuron-astrocyte networks. Using an established computational neuron-astrocyte network model, we simulate experimental data of healthy and pathological networks by using different neuronal and astrocytic parameter configurations. In our simulations, the reduction of neuronal or astrocytic cell densities yields decreased glutamate levels and a statistically significant reduction in the network activity. Amplifications of the astrocytic ATP release toward postsynaptic terminals also reduced the network activity and resulted in temporarily increased glutamate levels. In contrast, reducing either the glutamate release or re-uptake in astrocytes resulted in higher network activities. Similarly, an increase in synaptic weights of excitatory or inhibitory neurons raises the excitability of individual cells and elevates the activation level of the network. To conclude, our simulations suggest that the impairment of both neurons and astrocytes disturbs the neuronal network activity in schizophrenia.

Original languageEnglish
Article number718459
JournalFrontiers in Cellular Neuroscience
Publication statusPublished - 26 Aug 2021


  • computational model
  • computational psychiatry
  • glutamate
  • linear mixed effects models
  • neuron-astrocyte network
  • schizophrenia

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience

Fields of Expertise

  • Human- & Biotechnology

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