Neurons and Glia
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The neuron is among the most compartmentalized and interactive of all cell types and is a specialized cell capable of sending electrical and chemical signals. Like all cells, neurons use proteins as the main sensors and effectors. The modification of the proteome in axons and dendrites is used to guide synaptic connections and store information. Individual neurons make connections to target neurons and stimulate or inhibit their activity, forming circuits that can process incoming information and carry out a response. The first two neuronal functions, receiving and processing incoming information, generally occur in the dendrites and cell bodies.
- Neuron Structure
The neuron is a cell of remarkable configuration-its dendritic and axonal processes extend over distances thousands of times greater than the cell body diameter and comprise a total volume of cytoplasm hundreds of times greater than the volume of the cell body. The cell body has most of the protein-synthesizing capacity of the neuron, which is primarily responsible for maintaining the whole neuronal mass. Because of this highly regionalized organization, an enormous amount of material inevitably passes from the cell body to the outlying portions of the cell. This intracellular traffic not only serves to replace structural components consumed in metabolism but also provides some of the materials specifically required for synaptic function.
Functions of Neurons
- Neurons receive signals or information.
- Neurons integrate incoming signals to determine whether or not the information should be passed along.
- Neurons communicate signals to target cells (other neurons or muscles or glands).
A single neuron, or nerve cell, can maintain a resting potential voltage across the membrane. It can fire nerve impulses or action potentials. Incoming signals can be either excitatory or inhibitory. Most neurons receive many input signals throughout their dendritic trees. A single neuron may have more than one set of dendrites and may receive many thousands of input signals. Whether or not a neuron is excited about firing an impulse depends on the sum of all of the excitatory and inhibitory signals it receives. If the neuron does end up firing, the nerve impulse, or action potential, is conducted down the axon.
Glia is non-neuronal cell in the nervous system that support neuronal development and signaling. Several types of glia serve different functions, including astrocytes, myelinating glia, ependymal cells, and microglia. They keep up homeostasis, shape myelin, and provide bolster and security for neurons.
Functions of Glia in Central Nervous System (CNS)
- Glia is the principal regulator of cell numbers in the CNS.
- Glia influences neuronal migration, axon specification, and growth.
- Glia can coordinate circuit-wide neuronal differentiation.
- Glia regulates synapse formation and pruning.
- Glia adjusts synaptic communication and plasticity.
- Glial regulation of ion homeostasis affects circuit function.
- Neuro-glial-vascular coupling provides metabolic support.
Fig.2 Origin and overview of CNS glial cells. (Allen, 2018)
Neurons and Glia Interaction
Neurons and glia coordinate actions and transmit signals in the central nervous system (CNS) and peripheral nervous system (PNS). Interactions among neurons and glia play a fundamental role in the early stages of the neuronal circuit assembly. Many neurons and glial cells make up our brain: astrocytes, oligodendrocytes, NG2 cells, microglia, and ependyma. Neurons are the brain's basic information processing unit, so much of the neurological research is based solely on neurons. However, a recent study shows that glial cells are more than just the "glue" binding the CNS neurons together. Glial cells also provide neurons with support functions, and they are much more numerous than neurons. A novel theory has shown that glial and neurons can talk and understand the same chemical language, so glial cell dysfunction results in abnormal neuro-glial interactions, impairs neuronal cell functionality. It can shed new light on explaining several mysterious aspects by digging up the glial functions and further comprehending these vital cells and the interaction between neurons and glial.
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- Allen, N. J.; Lyons, D. A. Glia as architects of central nervous system formation and function. Science. 2018, 362(6411), 181-185.