Glial cells: Journeys to the brain-14

“Neurons Converted from Glial Cells” by National Institutes of Health (NIH) is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

Can we create neurons from another cell type? Yes!. The red-colored cells you see in the above image are neurons that were originally mice glial cells. NIH researchers have converted those into neurons using gene therapy.

Furthermore, these new neurons, they have demonstrated, can do the lost neurons’ job!.

You can read more about this amazing story on the NIH Director’s blog.

We know about neurons; do we know enough about Glial cells?

In fact, glial cells outnumber neurons. And, they are very close allies of neurons. If they do not exist, neurons cannot exist.

Types of glial cells

There are three types of glial cells: Astrocytes, Microglia, and Oligodentrocytes. The diagram below illustrates them.

Glial cells:
(Image source: Wikimedia by Open Stax under Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license).

Astrocytes

As you can see, they look like stars and in contact with both neurons and the cells of the supply routes’ walls; in this case, the smallest branches of it – the capillaries. They also provide structural support to synapses. They play a crucial role in a stroke; strangely both hero and villain roles. Their members who reside as neighbors to the attacked area quickly undergo both structural and functional changes; they proliferate and form a fence. This separates the dead from the living, very much similar to the “crime scene” tapes.

Microglia

This group scavenges dead cells and attack pathogens (disease-causing microbes). Their job is to maintain a healthy environment in the brain.

Oligodendroncytes

This group produces myelin that sheaths around axons of neurons. The myelin sheaths act as insulators that help send electrical current-based information faster.

Now, it is obvious that if they do not their job, there is no point in having neurons.

Radial glia

This is a special group. They act as scaffolds for baby neurons and guide them to migrate to their final destinations.

Author: Prasantha De Silva

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