Posted by: Khepera | Friday, 11 July 2008

Has Science Missed Half the Brain? Neglected Cells Hold Keys to Thought & Learning

Originally posted on my previous blog in April 2004, this is another piece in the neurological/neurophysical puzzle of brain-mind-consciousness…

In case you missed it, just a head’s up to apprise you of April’s issue of Scientific American.You cannot access the full article online unless you have a subscription to SA Digital. What follows is the available excerpt, then I have typed in what I consider to be critical paragraphs(parts of 3 & 4) — which, ironically IMMEDIATELY follows where the teaser cuts off. For the rest of the article, use the link, Luke…

Those of you familiar with the reference will note that the article describes a phenomena in neuroscience which I affectionately term the “dark matter syndrome”


“Has Science Missed Half the Brain?”
Neglected Cells Hold Keys to Thought & Learning


Mounting evidence suggests that glial cells, overlooked for half a century, may be nearly as critical to thinking and learning as neurons are

The Other Half of the Brain
By R. Douglas Fields

The recent book Driving Mr. Albert tells the true story of pathologist Thomas Harvey, who performed the autopsy of Albert Einstein in 1955. After finishing his task, Harvey irreverently took Einstein’s brain home, where he kept it floating in a plastic container for the next 40 years. From time to time Harvey doled out small brain slices to scientists and pseudoscientists around the world who probed the tissue for clues to Einstein’s genius. But when Harvey reached his 80s, he placed what was left of the brain in the trunk of his Buick Skylark and embarked on a road trip across the country to return it to Einstein’s granddaughter.

One of the respected scientists who examined sections of the prized brain was Marian C. Diamond of the University of California at Berkeley. She found nothing unusual about the number or size of its neurons (nerve cells). But in the association cortex, responsible for high-level cognition, she did discover a surprisingly large number of nonneuronal cells known as glia–a much greater concentration than that found in the average Albert’s head.

An odd curiosity? Perhaps not. A growing body of evidence suggests glial cells play a far more important role than historically presumed. For decades, physiologists focuses on neurons as the brain’s prime communicators. Glia, even though they outnumber nerve cells nine to one, were thought to have only a maintenance role: bringing nutrients from blood vessels to neurons, maintaining a healthy balance of ions in the brain, and warding off pathogens that evaded the immune system. Propped up by glia, neurons were free to communicate across tiny contact points called synapses and to establish a web of connections that allow us to think, remember and jump for joy.

That long-held model of brain function could change dramatically if new findings about glia pan out. In the past several years, sensitive imaging tests have shown that neurons and glia engage in a two-way dialogue from embryonic development through old age. Glia influence the formation of synapses and help to determine which neural connections get stronger or weaker over time; such changes are essential to learning and to storing long-term memories. And the most recent work shows that glia also communicate among themselves, in a separate but parallel network to the neural network, influencing how well the brain performs. Neuroscientists are cautious about assigning new prominence to glia too quickly, yet are excited by the prospect that more than half the brain has gone largely unexplored and may contain a trove of information about how the mind works………


  1. Thanks for the interesting post.


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