2-Minute Neuroscience: Glial Cells

In my 2-Minute Neuroscience videos I simplistically explain neuroscience topics in 2 minutes or less. In this video, I cover
glial cells. I discuss microglia and several types of macroglia: astrocytes, oligodendrocytes, Schwann cells, ependymal cells, radial glia, and satellite cells.

For more neuroscience articles, videos, and a complete neuroscience glossary, check out my website at www.neuroscientificallychallenged.com !


Welcome to 2 minute neuroscience, where I simplistically explain neuroscience topics in 2 minutes or less. In this installment I will discuss glial cells.

Glial cells are often just called glia. Glia is Greek for glue, and glial cells initially got this name b/c they seemed to fill in the spaces between neurons to hold neurons in place. We now know, however, that although some glia do provide structural support to neurons, they have many other roles as well. There are several different types of glial cells; I will discuss the major types here.

Glia can be divided into two classes: microglia and macroglia. Microglia are immune system cells, and act as the primary immune defense of the central nervous system. They travel throughout the brain and spinal cord while removing things like damaged neurons, infectious pathogens, or other foreign substances.

The rest of the glial cells I’ll discuss are considered macroglia. Astrocytes are star-shaped glial cells with many functions. They provide nutrient support to neurons, are involved in repairing damage to nervous system tissue, and help maintain a structure called the blood-brain-barrier, which keeps potentially toxic substances in the blood from entering the brain. They have many other functions and even play a role in regulating communication between neurons.

Oligodendrocytees and schwann cells both are responsible for covering neurons with an insulatory material called myelin. Myelin improves the efficiency of neuronal communication. Oligodendrocytes myelinate neurons in the central nervous system and schwann cells myelinate neurons in the peripheral nervous system.

Ependymal cells are found in the walls of the ventricles, which are four hollow cavities in the brain. Ependymal cells secrete cerebrospinal fluid into the ventricles and cerebrospinal fluid then circulates around the brain, protecting it from injuries as well as removing toxins and depositing them in the bloodstream.

Radial glia are involved in neurogenesis and neural development. They can give birth to new neurons and also serve as a scaffold along which new neurons can travel from their site of origin to their final destination in the brain.

Satellite cells surround neurons in some parts of the peripheral nervous system, playing a protective and supportive role. Although their role is not fully understood, it is thought they might also be involved in regulating the neuronal environment of some peripheral nervous system neurons.

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