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Studying Gila Development

Gila cells are more or less an unknown quantity in the nervous system. In humans and other mammals, in insects, in brds; in practically all lifeforms with a brain, gila cells exist, in the central nervous system and the periphery, binding the neurons together.

For some time it was thought that this was all they did: supported and bound the development of neurons. They are everywhere in the brain, but we know very little about them.

Attempts to study these cells have been hampered somewhat: remove the gila, and neurons where they were, die out. Remove the neurons, and gila die out. There is obviously a sort of symbiotic relationship there, but no-one knows that it is, as there has never been any opportunity to study either cell type without the other, and we are still many, many decades from being able to perfectly simulate an entire cell in all its functions, to understand in that way, without knowing it first.

The result is a massive gap in our understanding of the basic operation of both the brain and the central nervous system. It is a gap that has to be closed if we are ever to truly master the workings of the aforementioned.

A small breakthrough has now been made, which whilst it does not aid our knowledge of gila, allows for the first time, their study. An animal species has been found: A simple worm, in which if the gila are killed, the neurons survive. The worm Caenorhabditis elegans offers our first real glimpse into thefunction of a gila cell.

In C elegans, when the gila cells are removed via laser scalpel, the neurons around them continue to function. However, over time, the neurons slowly deform into unrecognisable shapes, and abnormal functions.

By studying these neurons, and the changes they undergo, for the first time, it allows the study of gila cells indirectly, back-tracking and reverse engineering their functions, based on the effects on their partner cells when gila are not present. That much, we can simulate.

Further Reading

Glia guide brain development in worms

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