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Glia are thought to have four main functions:
- To surround neurons and hold them in place,
- To supply nutrients and oxygen to neurons,
- To insulate one neuron from another,
- To destroy pathogens and remove dead neurons.
Glia may have more functions than just these four.
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's 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.