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Glia, or glial cells, are cells of the central nervous system which support the main neuron cells. They act as 'nerve glue' or neuroglia, insulating the neurons, holding them in place and controlling the flow of nutrients and other chemicals. They also provide housekeeping functions, removing dead neurons.
There are several types of glial cells, the most important of which are astrocytes, oliodendrocytes and microglia.
Brain tumours often arise from glial cells. These are called glioma.
Astrocytes ('star cells' or astroglia) provide nourishment and physical support to neurons and perform clean-up waste disposal.
For fuelling neurons, they receive glucose from capiliaries and break it down to lactate which is released in the fluid surrounding neurons, which then transport it to their mitochondria to use for energy. In addition they
Astrocytes are star-shaped with arms that wrap around blood vessels and neurons. They also surround and isolate synapses, preventing the dispersion of neurotransmitters.
There are special types of astrocyte that can travel around the central nervous system using extensible pseudopodia ('false feet') to clean up dead cells. They push themselves against debris, absorbing and digesting it in a process called phagocytosis. Where necessary, they will divide to handle significant work.
Oliodendrocytes provide primary support to axons and produce the insulating myelin sheath. Myelin is 80% lipid and 20% protein. The sheath appears as a series of tube segments about 1mm long.
Oliodendrocytes look at bit like many-armed octopi, with paddle-shaped arms that wrap around axons in the formation of the myelin sheath.
These are the smallest glial cells. Like astrocytes, they act as phagocytes to mop up debris. They also represent the immune system in the brain and are responsible for inflammation when there is brain damage.
Ependymal cells are also called ependymocytes.
Radial glia are special cells that help the brain develop. They extend fibers radially out from the ventricular zone, helping neurons migrate to their final place.