A powerful cell needs a support team – nerve cells (neurons) are accompanied by glial cells, which do many jobs including protecting the neurons and supplying them with nutrients. New studies have shown that certain types of glial cell can do more than that – they can also affect how cells grow. Neurons grow dendrites – long projections which pass signals to other neurons. When neurons were grown with a type of glial cell called astroglia, their dendrites didn’t grow as long. The dendrites right next to the astroglia also tended to grow towards them. The neuron (falsely coloured green) and astroglial cell (blue) in the image even touch, so they could be growing together by physically pulling on each other. This sheds light on how nerves grow, but when large numbers of cells grow together in a nervous system there are many other factors at play too.
Written by Esther Redhouse White
BPoD stands for Biomedical Picture of the Day. Managed by the MRC London Institute of Medical Sciences (the new name for the MRC Clinical Sciences Centre) 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.