Navigation Links
Brain's connective cells are much more than glue

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 suspected that glia cells were even more central to how the brain works. Glia cells are abundant in the brain's hippocampus and the cortex, the two parts of the brain that have the most control over the brain's ability to process information, learn and memorize. In fact, for every neuron cell, there are two to five glia cells. Taking into account previous experimental data, the researchers were able to build a model that could resolve the puzzle.

The brain is like a social network, says Prof. Ben-Jacob. Messages may originate with the neurons, which use the synapses as their delivery system, but the glia serve as an overall moderator, regulating which messages are sent on and when. These cells can either prompt the transfer of information, or slow activity if the synapses are becoming overactive. This makes the glia cells the guardians of our learning and memory processes, he notes, orchestrating the transmission of information for optimal brain function.

New brain-inspired technologies and therapies

The team's findings could have important implications for a number of brain disorders. Almost all neurodegenerative diseases are glia-related pathologies, Prof. Ben-Jacob notes. In epileptic seizures, for example, the neurons' activity at one brain location propagates and overtakes the normal activity at other locations. This can happen when the glia cells fail to properly regulate synaptic transmission. Alternatively, when brain activity is low, glia cells boost transmissions of information, keeping the connections between neurons "alive."

The model provides a "new view" of how the brain functions. While the study was in press, two experimental works appeared that supported the model's predictions. "A growing number of scientists are starting to recognize the fact that you need the glia to perform tasks that neurons alone can't accomplish in an efficient way," says De Pitt. The model will provide a new tool to begin revising the theories of computational neuroscience and lead to more realistic brain-inspired algorithms and microchips, which are designed to mimic neuronal networks.


Contact: George Hunka
American Friends of Tel Aviv University

Related biology news :

1. Old and young brains rely on different systems to remember emotional content
2. Rice University psychologist finds womens brains recognize, encode smell of male sexual sweat
3. Our brains make their own marijuana: Were all pot heads deep inside
4. Snakes and how they helped our big brains evolve
5. Monkey brains signal the desire to explore
6. Scientists remove amyloid plaques from brains of live animals with Alzheimers disease
7. Stimulus grant of nearly $9 million to UC San Diego funds big study of young brains
8. Ladder-walking locusts show big brains arent always best
9. Bigger not necessarily better, when it comes to brains
10. New neuroimaging analysis technique identifies impact of Alzheimers disease gene in healthy brains
11. Psychopaths brains wired to seek rewards, no matter the consequences
Post Your Comments:
Related Image:
Brain's connective cells are much more than glue
(Date:4/15/2016)... -- Research and Markets has announced the ...  report to their offering.  ,      ... gait biometrics market is expected to grow at ... Gait analysis generates multiple variables such ... compute factors that are not or cannot be ...
(Date:3/31/2016)... 31, 2016   ... the "Company") LegacyXChange is excited to release ... soon to be launched online site for trading 100% ... ) will also provide potential shareholders a sense of ... to an industry that is notorious for fraud. The ...
(Date:3/23/2016)... 23, 2016 ... Gesichts- und Stimmerkennung mit Passwörtern     ... MESG ), ein führender Anbieter digitaler ... mit SpeechPro zusammenarbeitet, um erstmals dessen Biometrietechnologie ... die Möglichkeit angeboten, im Rahmen mobiler Apps ...
Breaking Biology News(10 mins):
(Date:6/23/2016)... SILVER SPRING, Md. , June 23, 2016 ... evidence collected from the crime scene to track the criminal ... sick, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) uses ... Sound far-fetched? It,s not. ... whole genome sequencing to support investigations of foodborne illnesses. Put ...
(Date:6/23/2016)... ... June 23, 2016 , ... Charm Sciences, Inc. is ... has received AOAC Research Institute approval 061601. , “This is another AOAC-RI approval ... Bob Salter, Vice President of Regulatory and Industrial Affairs. “The Peel Plate methods ...
(Date:6/23/2016)... 23, 2016  The Biodesign Challenge (BDC), a university ... to harness living systems and biotechnology, announced its winning ... New York City . ... showcased projects at MoMA,s Celeste Bartos Theater during the ... MoMA,s senior curator of architecture and design, and ...
(Date:6/23/2016)... ... June 23, 2016 , ... ... the launch of the Supplyframe Design Lab . Located in Pasadena, Calif., ... the future of how hardware projects are designed, built and brought to market. ...
Breaking Biology Technology: