Glia cells, named for the Greek word for "glue," hold the brain's neurons together and protect the cells that determine our thoughts and behaviors, but scientists have long puzzled over their prominence in the activities of the brain dedicated to learning and memory. Now Tel Aviv University researchers say that glia cells are central to the brain's plasticity how the brain adapts, learns, and stores information.
According to Ph.D. student Maurizio De Pitt of TAU's Schools of Physics and Astronomy and Electrical Engineering, glia cells do much more than hold the brain together. A mechanism within the glia cells also sorts information for learning purposes, De Pitt says. "Glia cells are like the brain's supervisors. By regulating the synapses, they control the transfer of information between neurons, affecting how the brain processes information and learns."
De Pitt's research, led by his TAU supervisor Prof. Eshel Ben-Jacob, along with Vladislav Volman of The Salk Institute and the University of California at San Diego and Hugues Berry of the Universit de Lyon in France, has developed the first computer model that incorporates the influence of glia cells on synaptic information transfer. Detailed in the journal PLoS Computational Biology, the model can also be implemented in technologies based on brain networks such as microchips and computer software, Prof. Ben-Jacob says, and aid in research on brain disorders such as Alzheimer's disease and epilepsy.
Regulating the brain's "social network"
The brain is constituted of two main types of cells: neurons and glia. Neurons fire off signals that dictate how we think and behave, using synapses to pass along the message from one neuron to another, explains De Pitt. Scientists theorize that memory and learning are dictated by synaptic activity because they are "plastic," with the ability to adapt to different stimuli.
But Ben-Jacob and colleagues suspect
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