Medical Research Council - London Institute of Medical Sciences

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Well-oiled Machine

Glial cells – non-neuronal cells of the nervous system – control the speed and precision of peripheral nerve signals

20 October 2020

Well-oiled Machine

The finely tuned machine that is your nervous system relies on electrical signals travelling quickly and accurately along one neuron’s nerve fibre, or axon, to another. To ensure this speed and precision, axons must be well insulated. Enter glial cells, which make up half of the cells in our brain but are also found across the body (shown here in a fruit fly, with each colour labelling a different glial cell). Glia deliver the energy that neurons need, but also create the insulating coat around their axons. When scientists removed or blocked glial cells in fruit flies, they found that these coatings were missing or malformed, resulting in electrical signals from a neuron not reaching its target recipients. These findings illustrate one of the many ways in which glial cells help to keep the complex cogs of the nervous system turning.

Written by Gaëlle Coullon

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