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Glial cell

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Neuroglia of the brain shown by Golgi's method
23 week foetal brain culture astrocyte (a type of glia)

Glial cells are support cells for the nervous system. In Greek, Glia means "glue". Glia are said to be the glue of the nervous system.[1] Glia occur in both grey matter and white matter.

Glia are thought to have four main functions:

  1. To surround neurons and hold them in place,
  2. To supply nutrients and oxygen to neurons,
  3. To insulate one neuron from another,
  4. To destroy pathogens and remove dead neurons.

Glia may have more functions than just these four.[2]

Role in degenerative brain diseases

A type of glial cell are thought to play a role in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS or motor neurone disease), Alzheimer's disease (a type of dementia) and Parkinson's disease.

The microglia are the macrophages of the nervous system. In these neurodegenerative disorders, it is thought that the microglia digest healthy brain cells, causing the degeneration of brain function. This is especially true for Parkinson's disease, where the Glia break down dopaminergic cells, causing the symptoms associated with Parkinson's.[3][4]


  1. 'Glue' is what the word glia means in Greek.
  2. Scientific American. The other brain cells
  3. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences [2003, 991:214-228] (Europe Pubmed)
  4. Annals of Neurology [1998, 44(3 Suppl 1):S115-20] (Europe Pubmed)