Solutions Through Astrocyte Research

Advancing strategies to target astrocytes for the treatment and prevention of neuro-disorders.

There have been few discoveries leading to drug treatments for brain diseases in recent decades and alternative avenues of investigation are urgently needed.

Neurons have traditionally been the stars of brain research while the star-shaped astrocytes – which make up at least 30% of brain cells – were thought to be limited to a supporting role. There is now evidence that astrocytes are as important as neurons in assuring brain performance. In addition, astrocyte dysfunction is evident in numerous brain disorders including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Huntington’s diseases, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, epilepsy, anxiety and depression.


“If we can reveal the hidden role of astrocytes in the brain, we may unleash a secret weapon against diseases like Alzheimer’s.”

The STAR project is pursuing new strategies, focused on astrocytes, to identify biomarkers and new therapeutic targets to treat neurological and psychiatric disorders.

The team is recording astrocyte activity in the brain with advanced imaging and combining this with molecular information to help identify function and dysfunction.

The hippocampus of an Alzheimer’s mouse with astrocytes in green (GFAP labelling). Volterra lab, unpublished
A region of the hippocampus with astrocytes labelled in green, activated neurons (c-fos-positive) in pink, and nuclei of all cells in blue (DAPI). Volterra lab, unpublished

Paving the way for new therapeutic molecules to solve brain disorders

The team is using the advanced imaging pipeline at the Wyss Center to prepare, fluorescently label, image and analyze neural tissue.

The state-of-the-art lightsheet microscopes, and other imaging capabilities, reveal the cellular, molecular and genetic characteristics of astrocytes within neural circuits in three-dimensions at high resolution.


“Driven by our internationally recognized team of astrocyte experts, we are bringing together innovative ideas, cutting-edge tools and exclusive genetic models in pursuit of urgently needed treatments to fight brain disorders.”

Wyss Center researchers are supported by quality, regulatory, clinical, and entrepreneurship teams to give innovations the best opportunity of successful translation.

An existing collaboration with Gliapharm, a biotech company specializing in the research and development of novel therapies to treat and prevent neurological diseases by targeting astrocytes, will contribute to the translational objectives of the STAR project.

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Astrocytes in the hippocampus

Two-photon movie showing a progressive zoom-in of the axon fibers (white) connecting the entorhinal cortex with the dentate gyrus of the hippocampus and of the local astrocytes (red). Volterra lab, from Bindocci et al., Science, 2017
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3D Ca2+ dynamics

3D Ca2+ dynamics (golden) in a single astrocyte (azur, SR-101-labelled) via 3D two-photon microscopy. Volterra lab, related to Bindocci et al., Science, 2017.
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Neuron-astrocyte interactions

Intricate morphological interactions between many neuronal axons (red, tdTomato-labelled) and a single astrocyte (green, GFP-labelled). Movie showing the 3D view via a sequence of individual focal planes in two-photon microscopy as well as the final full reconstruction. Volterra lab, from Bindocci et al., Science, 2017


The STAR team is pursuing new strategies, focused on astrocytes, to identify biomarkers and new therapeutic targets to treat neurological and psychiatric disorders.
Wyss Center



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