The importance of glia for the function of the nervous system has been widely acknowledged since Rudolf Virchow expressed his concept of neuroglia (nerve glue) in 1846. He postulated that glia is a substance 'which lies between the proper nervous parts, holds them together and gives the whole its form'. With exception of the role of oligodendroglia and Schwann cells in speeding axonal conduction, our understanding of the role of glia has advanced little since then. There is increasing evidence that the glial elements, which outnumber neurons by about an order of magnitude, contribute to the structural and nutritive support of neurons, regulate the extracellular environment of ions and transmitters, guide migrating neurons during development and play an important role in repair and regeneration17. A molecular description of the functional elements of neuroglia would seem important to characterize the unique properties of glia and glial subclasses.
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