Glorious Glia: What Are Astrocytes?

When we talk about brain cells, most people think about neurons – these brain superstars do all of the important signaling to keep us up and running. But neurons aren’t the only cells in the brain; about half of the brain’s cells are glia, a word that literally translates to “glue”. For decades, scientists wrote all of these cells off as uninteresting, assuming that they were static cells that only existed to support, insulate, and provide nutrients to neurons – but since the mid 90’s, we’ve begun to uncover a lot of new roles for many of the different kinds of glial cells, showing that these underappreciated cells are more than meets the eye.

To use my favorite analogy: if neurons are the brain’s Beyoncé, the glia are her entourage. Obviously Queen Bey looks and sounds incredible on her own – but it takes a whole team of makeup artists, sound technicians, and personal assistants to shape her style and tailor her musical message to get things juuust right. Glia help with all of that fine tuning, shaping the brain’s connections and modulating signaling to keep everything working smoothly.

Over here at Neuro Transmissions, we love glia – a lot! So we’ve decided to create a mini-series of videos to highlight the three major glial cell types, starting with my favorite cell: the astrocyte. Check out this video to learn a little bit about how astrocytes influence the formation and development of synapses. While you’re at it, subscribe so you can catch our next two videos – join us on September 11 to learn about the brain’s immune cells, called microglia, and on September 25 to discover oligodendrocytes – the brain’s insulation.

 

If you’d like to learn more about astrocytes, check out these earlier posts from our blog –

Glia at the Synapse: Setting the stage
Three’s Company: The tripartite synapse
Astrocytes are like exes (they need their space): discovering astrocytic domains

Thanks for watching!

 

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