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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.
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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 .
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32 comments
 
This dismissal of glial cells surprises me. In a complex biological system that relies on evolution for development it seems more likely that everything contributes to the overall result in more than one way.
 
Very nicely done community project one again — Excellent!
 
And yet it is so, +Richard Healy . I was at an autism conference where only one or two talks out of several dozen focused on the role of astrocytes. I guess that means there's more that my lab can study ;)
 
Glial cells and the neuroglia. Oh how treacherous their treatment! May they get the credit they rightfully deserve.
 
We have a lot to live up to, it seems! There is a lot to be Glia.
The gif is quite amazing to watch, and I really enjoyed your additional information, +Rajini Rao !
And thanks so much for the cross reference!
 
Always nice to see as a neuroscientist - reminds me of those overhead shots of lightning storms.
 
Glad you enjoyed the movies, +Gust MEES ! Thanks for putting the spotlight on calcium waves :)
 
Looks like city lights seen from above, under a lightning storm attack :P
 
Is anyone investigating Roger Penrose's ideas about quantum entanglement and the brain? Love the post!
 
There has been a bit of controversy about the Einstein glial cell result (based on sample sizes, etc.), but there is quite a bit more we know about Einstein's brain, much of it based on work done by my McMaster University colleague, Sandra Witelson. Witelson oversees a brain bank that includes a significant part of Einstein's brain. Her work has shown, among other things, that Einstein had a relatively enlarged inferior parietal lobe compared to large numbers of control subjects/brains, which has been suggested as one reason he was able to use visual imagery to gain scientific insight.
 
+Allison Sekuler , I also saw a criticism that the ages of control subjects were not controlled for in the brain pathology study (apparently glia continue to divide throughout life, so if the control brains were from younger subjects, they could have fewer glia). Here's the strange tale of Einstein's brain ending up being shipped in a mayonnaise jar: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=126229305
 
Yes, it was a strange journey! I've heard some other wild stories about Einstein's brain from Sandra Witelson ;)
 
Great & very knowledgeable post Rajini..Thanks to you.. :)
 
Fascinating!!! How far are we from mapping the entire neural construct?
 
Looks like your brain after a venti from Starbucks.
 
+chris hatchett I assume you're talking about Orch-OR. It's not obvious crackpottery, but two points:

(1) Orch-OR is contingent on objective collapse, which is further out of favor than the Copenhagen Interpretation -- the decoherence explanation is probably the theory with the most currency. I'm not certain that there will ever be a consensus on what waveform collapse "means," but it's intellectually dishonest to use complex mathematics as a final obscuritanist refuge for God. It's not clear that waveform collapse requires an observer, much less a God.

(2) The microtubule hypothesis, while interesting, requires quantum entanglement to manifest at a scale orders of magnitude more than it's been shown to appear. The further proposal that Bose-Einstein condensates of state-locked electrons can spontaneously appear at room temperature is so ridiculous that it's almost unworthy of comment. Above a few degrees Kelvin, there are plenty of available states for bosons, so it's unclear to me how a condensate would arise.

I'm willing to reserve judgment: quantum effects have shown up in unexpected places (like chloroplasts) before. But I'm not willing to believe in a hypothesis unsupported by the facts merely because it would be spiritually convenient for me to do so.
 
that,s truely amazing to see this is a blessing to witness this most spectactular event unfold
 
As time goes on, there will be a reasonable explanation of why my son is able to do so much with his extensive congenital brain damage where he was born missing quite a bit of upper brain including the corpus collosum and the upper three ventricles.  I am willing to bet that chemical connections are far more important than just brain structures.
 
+Bj Bolender , amazing how cutting the corpus collosum works to stall seizures but still allows the brain to function. I'm guessing many cognitive functions associated with the damaged regions in your son's brain were simply transferred to other parts of the brain. My daughter had something similar with her temporal lobe.
 
And it seems miraculous, doesn't it!  Some miracles really have a scientific basis even though the neurologists tell us that it will literally be a hundred or two years before the importance and mechanisms are discovered way beyond our lifetimes.
 
The brain is so complex that I'm not convinced that our brains can decipher it in several life times. After all, it evolved over millions of years. It seems that there is ever increasing complexity as we delve deeper into the biology of neural mechanisms.
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