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Neuroscience for Kids
Glia: The Forgotten Brain Cell
The brain is made up of more than just nerve cells (neurons). Although
there are about 86-100 billion neurons in the brain, there are about the
number of glial cells in the brain. But do you hear much about glia?
NO! Because neurons get all the attention, you don't hear
too much about glia. Although glia cells DO NOT carry nerve impulses
(action potentials) they do have many important functions. In fact,
without glia, the neurons would not work properly!
Types and Functions of Glia
- Astrocyte (Astroglia): Star-shaped cells that provide
physical and nutritional support for neurons: 1) clean up brain "debris";
2) transport nutrients to neurons; 3) hold neurons in place; 4) digest
parts of dead neurons; 5) regulate content of extracellular space
- Microglia: Like astrocytes, microglia digest parts of
- Oligodendroglia: Provide the insulation (myelin) to
neurons in the central nervous system.
- Satellite Cells: Physical support to neurons in the
peripheral nervous system.
- Schwann Cells: Provide the insulation (myelin) to
neurons in the peripheral nervous system.
There are a few ways in which glia cells are different from
- Neurons have TWO "processes" called axons and dendrites....glial cells
have only ONE.
- Neurons CAN generate action potentials...glial cells CANNOT. However,
glial cells do have a resting potential.
- Neurons HAVE synapses that use neurotransmitters...glial cells do NOT
have chemical synapses.
- There are many MORE (10-50 times more) glial cells in the brain
compared to the number of neurons.
More information about glia:
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