OCT 24, 2021 4:41 AM PDT

Glial Cells May be an Underappreciated Part of Our 'Second Brain'

WRITTEN BY: Carmen Leitch

Some people might say it's best to trust your gut, maybe because there is a 'second brain' there; the enteric nervous system is a network of cells that are woven into the walls of the gastrointestinal tract. It can control movements in the gut, and influence the activity of other cells. In many ways, the enteric nervous system can function independently of the central nervous system that controls most of our bodily functions. There are many specialized cell types found there as well. Neurons in the gut help coordinate its movement, such as contractions. But another type of cell called glia, which have been known as a support network for neurons, can also be found there. In recent years, research has shown that in the brain, glia can perform other functions beyond just helping neurons too. Scientists have been trying to learn more about the function of glia in the gut.

Image credit: Pixabay

"It's like this second brain in our gut. It's an extensive network of neurons and glia that line our intestines," said Brian Gulbransen, a Michigan State University (MSU) Foundation Professor in the College of Natural Science's Department of Physiology.

Reporting in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Gulbransen's team has determined that in the enteric nervous system, glia may be influencing the signals that move through neuronal circuits. Glia are playing an active role in signaling, suggested Gulbransen. But they don't appear to be initiating or receiving the signals like neurons do. Instead, they seem to modulate the electrical signals that travel through neural circuits, potentially dampening or amplifying the current as it moves.

Gulbransen's team has suggested that glia may help us understand how irritable bowel syndrome arises. Glial cells could also be influencing gastrointestinal disorders like constipation, or a rare problem called chronic intestinal pseudo-obstruction. In that disease, which has an unknown cause, a section of gut simply ceases to function, causing what seems like an obstruction, though there isn't a physical block.

Glial cells may be playing a far more important role in orchestrating the activity of the gut than we appreciated. Knowing more about the proper function of the gut will also help scientists and clinicians create treatments for disorders that disrupt the gut.

"This is a ways down the line, but now we can start to ask if there's a way to target a specific type or set of glia and change their function in some way," Gulbransen said. "Drug companies are already interested in this."

Sources: Michigan State University, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS)

About the Author
  • Experienced research scientist and technical expert with authorships on over 30 peer-reviewed publications, traveler to over 70 countries, published photographer and internationally-exhibited painter, volunteer trained in disaster-response, CPR and DV counseling.
You May Also Like
OCT 25, 2021
Cell & Molecular Biology
The Labroots 2021 Cell Biology Virtual Event Poster Winner: 5-Azacytidine Treatment & Lung Cancer
OCT 25, 2021
The Labroots 2021 Cell Biology Virtual Event Poster Winner: 5-Azacytidine Treatment & Lung Cancer
Labroots virtual events are a great place to share research and learn about others work. These events feature participan ...
OCT 31, 2021
Microbiology
Exploring the Mystery of Archaea in the Vertebrate Gut
OCT 31, 2021
Exploring the Mystery of Archaea in the Vertebrate Gut
Single celled organisms called archaea occupy their own branch on the tree of life, like bacteria, but we know a lot les ...
NOV 01, 2021
Cell & Molecular Biology
Is This Closed Barrier Why Psychiatric & Bowel Disorders are Linked?
NOV 01, 2021
Is This Closed Barrier Why Psychiatric & Bowel Disorders are Linked?
Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is a term that describes chronic gut inflammation and includes ulcerative colitis and C ...
NOV 17, 2021
Cancer
Turkey, Tryptophan, and Cancer
NOV 17, 2021
Turkey, Tryptophan, and Cancer
As many people start to plan their Thanksgiving dinners, there will inevitably be a lot of talk about the turkey.  ...
NOV 30, 2021
Drug Discovery & Development
Enabling new levels of quantification with the SCIEX 7500 system - powered by SCIEX OS Software
NOV 30, 2021
Enabling new levels of quantification with the SCIEX 7500 system - powered by SCIEX OS Software
Sensitivity is a fundamental performance characteristic of a mass spectrometer The SCIEX 7500 system is enabling new lev ...
DEC 05, 2021
Cell & Molecular Biology
New Cell Imaging Method Sees Inside & Outside of Cell Simultaneously
DEC 05, 2021
New Cell Imaging Method Sees Inside & Outside of Cell Simultaneously
EPFL researchers have develped a new tool for viewing live cells in unprecedented detail.
Loading Comments...