More evidence for the importance of glia, previously regarded as mere ‘support cells’ in the brain, comes from a mouse study — which also indicates the role of astrocytes in the evolution of the human brain. The study found that mice that received transplants of human glial progenitor cells learned much more quickly than normal mice.
The study follows on from recent findings that human astrocytes are very different from those found in mouse and rat brains. The study also points to one particular aspect of human astrocytes as being crucial: greater increases in the release of a cytokine called TNFa. When this was blocked, learning was reduced.
(2013). Forebrain Engraftment by Human Glial Progenitor Cells Enhances Synaptic Plasticity and Learning in Adult Mice.
Cell Stem Cell. 12(3), 342 - 353.