Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Neuron Doctrine... is a myth?

Afraid so.  I talked about this a little in my last post, and included a link to a really great (and short) article by science writer Carl Zimmer.  Here's the link again:   You should go there and read the article.
I will only say this, based on the work of the founding fathers of neuroscience (Camillo Golgi, Franz Nissl, Ramon y Cajal, and others) the idea that the brain and the rest of the nervous system were largely (if not solely) controlled by specialized cells called neurons became the overarching dogma of neuroscience.  Over a hundred years later, most neuroscientists still operate on the premise that the actions of the brain that underlie physiology and behavior are the primary result of electrochemical signaling between neurons (or between specialized neuron-like sensory cells and neurons).  In the past decade or so, more and more evidence has arisen that suggests other cell types in the brain (those we call "glia") are also capable of forming networks, signaling from cell to cell (over long distances), and even heavily influencing the actions of the neurons themselves (acting like the master switch operators, controlling the electrical impulses being sent out across the neuronal networks).  One thing is clear, the neuron doctrine is likely going to be dramatically revised in the years to come as researchers find out more and more about the different types of glial cells and the functions they perform.
(If you didn't read the previous post, or the article, the other important thing to mention is that there are many, many, many more glial cells in the brain than there are neurons.)

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