In the adult mammalian brain, the glial cells (shown here coloured green in a section of mouse cortex) are generally speaking supporters and modulators of the all-important neurons (magenta) –the electrical cells that store, process and deliver information at lightening speed. But new research suggests that neurons don’t just rely on glia for support, they also dictate the cells’ fates. The brain contains a variety of glial cell types possessing different specialised functions, and it was thought that these identities were established and fixed during embryo and early postnatal development. Scientists have now discovered, however, that a glial cell’s identity remains malleable into adulthood. It turns out that neurons in the adult brain continuously release fate-determining molecular signals, which neighbouring glia require to maintain their identity. Exactly how this previously unappreciated glial plasticity ultimately affects an animal’s behaviour and brain functions has yet to be determined.
BPoD stands for Biomedical Picture of the Day. Managed by the MRC London Institute of Medical Sciences the website aims to engage everyone, young and old, in the wonders of biomedicine. Images are kindly provided for inclusion on this website through the generosity of scientists across the globe.
BPoD is also available in Catalan at www.bpod.cat with translations by the University of Valencia.