© 2016 The Authors. Astrocytes are housekeepers of the central nervous system (CNS) and are important for CNS development, homeostasis and defence. They communicate with neurones and other glial cells through the release of signalling molecules. Astrocytes secrete a wide array of classic neurotransmitters, neuromodulators and hormones, as well as metabolic, trophic and plastic factors, all of which contribute to the gliocrine system. The release of neuroactive substances from astrocytes occurs through several distinct pathways that include diffusion through plasmalemmal channels, translocation by multiple transporters and regulated exocytosis. As in other eukaryotic cells, exocytotic secretion from astrocytes involves divergent secretory organelles (synaptic-like microvesicles, dense-core vesicles, lysosomes, exosomes and ectosomes), which differ in size, origin, cargo, membrane composition, dynamics and functions. In this review, we summarize the features and functions of secretory organelles in astrocytes. We focus on the biogenesis and trafficking of secretory organelles and on the regulation of the exocytotic secretory system in the context of healthy and diseased astrocytes. This review outlines the distinct secretory mechanism and organelles by which astrocytes secrete factors important for CNS development, homeostasis and cognitive function, as well as their contribution to health and diseases.