The Glia Club. Neurons are flashy, but an estimated 90% of your brain is made up of glial cells! Derived from the Latin word for “glue”,glia hold your brain together, allowing neurons to communicate. For too long, glia have been dismissed as the domestic servants of the electrically elite neurons: feeding them, mopping up neurotransmitters in a synapse, and repairing injured or diseased neurons.
• But it’s the variety and number of our glia that make our brain unique. Only vertebrates have special glial cells that wrap around nerve axons providing electrical insulation (seen as white matter in the brain), making transmission of action potentials 50-100 times faster!
• A postmortem of Einstein’s brain revealed no clues to his genius from his neurons. Interestingly, he had disproportionately larger numbers of glial cells in his cerebral cortex, an area involved in complex reasoning,math and imagery. Astrocytes, a type of glial cell, have bushy processes that can make as many as 30,000 connections to neighboring neurons. Researchers are trying to figure out exactly how these cells influence neurons.
• Glia communicate using chemical signals in the form of calcium waves, seen in the time lapse image. Calcium makes a fluorescent indicator glow, with brightness color-coded into warmer colors. The glia are responding to firing of action potentials in the long axons of neurons, seen as lightning bolts. Glia synchronize their signals by gap junctions or specialized channels between cells.
Google+ collaborations: ☆Kevin Staff made this amazing animated gif from R. Douglas Field’s Movie: http://stke.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/short/3/147/tr5/DC1
♬ Konstantin Makov picked out the music that evokes rapid fire connections flashing in our brains: Schnittke – Concerto Grosso No. 1 (Kremer)
Dedicated to Glia – The Social Glue founded by Gregory Esau Jeff Jockisch and others..check them out. For #ScienceSunday curated by Allison Sekuler and Robby Bowles .