Astrocytes are nonneuronal brain cells that were recently shown to actively communicate with neurons and are implicated in memory, learning, and regulation of cognitive states. Interestingly, these information processing functions are also closely linked to the brain's ability to self-organize at a critical phase transition. Investigating the mechanistic link between astrocytes and critical brain dynamics remains beyond the reach of cellular experiments, but it becomes increasingly approachable through computational studies. We developed a biologically plausible computational model of astrocytes to analyze how astrocyte calcium waves can respond to changes in underlying network dynamics. Our results suggest that astrocytes detect synaptic activity and signal directional changes in neuronal network dynamics using the frequency of their calcium waves. We show that this function may be facilitated by receptor scaling plasticity by enabling astrocytes to learn the approximate information content of input synaptic activity. This resulted in a computationally simple, information-theoretic model, which we demonstrate replicating the signaling functionality of the biophysical astrocyte model with receptor scaling. Our findings provide several experimentally testable hypotheses that offer insight into the regulatory role of astrocytes in brain information processing.

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