Astroglial cells were long considered to serve merely as the structural and metabolic supporting cast and scenery against which the shining neurones perform their illustrious duties. Relatively recent evidence, however, indicates that astrocytes are intimately involved in many of the brain's functions. Astrocytes possess a diverse assortment of ionotropic transmitter receptors, which enable these glial cells to respond to many of the same signals that act on neurones. Ionotropic receptors mediate neurone-driven signals to astroglial cells in various brain areas including neocortex, hippocampus and cerebellum. Activation of ionotropic receptors trigger rapid signalling events in astroglia; these events, represented by local Ca2+ or Na+ signals provide the mechanism for fast neuronal-glial signalling at the synaptic level. Since astrocytes can detect chemical transmitters that are released from neurones and can release their own extracellular signals, gliotransmitters, they are intricately involved in homocellular and heterocellular signalling mechanisms in the nervous system. This article is part of a Special Issue entitled: 11th European Symposium on Calcium. © 2010 Elsevier B.V.