Glial Cells: The Brain’s Support System
Many people know brain cells as simply neurons, but they often forget the brain’s other type of cells: glial cells, or simply glia. The biggest difference between neurons and glia is that glia do not perform synaptic actions or produce electrical impulses, meaning they are not directly involved in sensation, movement or other cognitive functions like neurons are.
If they do not contribute to our brain’s functions, then what exactly do they do? Well, their overall purpose is to maintain homeostasis (steady internal conditions) and provide support for neurons and the nervous system as a whole.
One way they do this is by forming myelin, a protein and phospholipid sheath that forms around a neuron's axon (a long part of a neuron that transfers electrical impulses to other neurons) to help increase the speed of electrical impulses in neurons.
Different types of glia have different roles. For example, astrocytes (star-shaped glia) help clean up dead neurons, create a filtering system letting in helpful substances and keeping harmful ones out and regulating blood flow to the brain.
Damage to glial cells has been linked to numerous disorders, including but not limited to Parkinson’s Disease, ALS, Schizophrenia, Bipolar Disorder, Autism Spectrum Disorders, Fibromyalgia and more.
Purves, D. (1970, January 01). Neuroglial cells. Retrieved February 9, 2021, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK10869/
Dellwo, A. (2019, December 01). What are glial cells and what do they do? Retrieved February 9, 2021, from https://www.verywellhealth.com/what-are-glial-cells-and-what-do-they-do-4159734