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What is it? What is it?

What is it? What is it?

Glial cells

Daniel BuenoGlial cells, or simply glia, are cells of the central nervous system that interact with neurons in ever more surprising ways. When these cells were first identified decades ago, it was believed that their function  was merely to provide support for neurons in the brain.

We now know that glial cells can release neurotransmitters, the molecules that regulate neuronal activities such as glutamine and serotonin production, thereby discrediting the notion that only neurons are capable of releasing neurotransmitters.   More recent studies show that glial cells play an important role in pain transmission, especially neuropathic pain.

Glial cells are generally round, lack axons and occur at ten times the frequency of neurons.  Their shape recalls that of stars, and when activated, glia are brighter and more reactive.  In certain physiological processes, glial cells are of equal or greater importance than neurons. More conclusive studies can better elucidate the  role of the glia in facilitating the process of pain transmission.

Specialist consulted:

Marucia Chacur, Researcher for the Functional Pain Neuroanatomy Laboratory of the Institute of Biomedical Sciences of the University of São Paulo (USP)