The key to understanding our brains may lie within a one-millimeter long worm, new research from Rockefeller University indicates. Reporting in the June issue of Developmental Cell, Shai Shaham, Ph.D., and graduate student Elliot Perens use the roundworm, C. elegans, to investigate the mysterious glial cell, which makes up 90 percent of the human brain and, when it malfunctions, can contribute to diseases like Parkinsons disease and schizophrenia.
Studying glial cells is technically difficult as they are essential for neuronal cell survival: disturbing them in any way puts the organisms life in jeopardy. Shaham and Perens show that worms are the perfect model system to study the function of these cells in the nervous system, because the glial cells can be manipulated and the neurons still form and function, though not entirely as normal.
"Glial cells have been traditionally hard to study in vertebrates because it is difficult to ask how they influence neurons beyond how they affect a neurons survival," says Shaham, head of the Strang Laboratory of Developmental Genetics. "This is the first paper to take a serious crack at glial cells in C. elegans. It shows that the worm really is a great system in which to study glial cells, because we are able to get the kind of answers that could help us understand how they are functioning in the human brain."
Kristine Kelly | EurekAlert!
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