Glial Cells - Your Brain's Support Network
You probably know about neurons. They're the brain cells charged with electricity that help you do your thinking. But do you know about glial cells? Glial cells don't get nearly as much press, but they're even more important to your brain's functioning than neurons.
What Are Glial Cells
Glial cells are known by many names - neuroglia or glia to name just a few. In the past, they were sometimes mistaken for brain cells but they're completely different. They're nervous system cells that are found in your brain and spinal cord. You may be surprised that there are actually more glial cells than neurons in your brain.
The Important Functions Of Glial Cells
While neurons do the thinking, glial cells maintain your brain and keep house for them to operate the most efficiently. They have a number of important supportive functions. First of all, they hold your neurons in place. They insulate and protect them from outside influence. They also form a transportation network that brings oxygen and essential nutrients to your neurons. Neurons need these in order to perform their own complex functions. Finally, the glial cells destroy and carry away dead neurons that your brain doesn't need anymore.
The Many Types Of Glial Cells
Not all glial cells are the same. There are a number of different types that each has its own function. Astrocytes are found in the brain's capillaries. They manage the blood supply and keep other substances from entering the blood. Microglia are, as the name suggests, very small and their main duty is to remove wastes from the neurons. Oligodendocytes concern themselves primarily with insulating the neurons in a protective myelin sheath. There are other types as well, and researchers still continue to find new ones.
Glial Cells Fight Disease And Injury
When you have a disease or injury that affects the brain, the glial cells fight back. Parkinson's Disease attacks glial cells, and they declare war and fight to the death against the illness. Traumatic injuries to the head can damage important areas of glial cells, which prevents oxygen from getting to the brain. Scientists are now studying these cells more closely to see how they are impacted by illness and injury. Their hope is to use this research to more successfully fight ailments of the brain.
Glial cells are just as important to your brain's functioning as your neurons, if not more so. They're like the little army that supports your brain and bravely fights off all who try to harm it. Research on glial cells is ongoing and hopefully will lead to even better treatments for brain and nervous system disorders.
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