These delicate figures might look like spidery sea-creatures, but they’re actually Schwann cells: highly specialised cells that are a vital part of the nervous system. In order to be clearly seen down a microscope, they’ve been stained with a green fluorescent dye highlighting a molecule called beta-tubulin, which acts as a kind of internal scaffolding. Just as electrical wires in your house are coated with plastic insulating tape to avoid short-circuits and shocks, the nerve cells in your body – constantly fizzing with the electrical signals that enable you to think, move and react to the world around you – also need to be protected. It’s here that the Schwann cells step in, seeking out and wrapping around nerve cells like tape around a wire. They produce large amounts of a fatty molecule known as myelin, which acts as natural electrical insulation, helping nerve impulses travel quickly and safely around the body.
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.