Of brains and nerves part II

As Joy introduced nicely, our blog will be about Neuroscience.

Now, let me present myself. My name is Hélène Gautier, I have a PhD in Neuroscience and I am currently a post-doctoral scientist in the department of Physiology, Development and Neuroscience. My specialty is electrophysiology, meaning that I like to spy on cells by recording their electrical activity. I am using it to find out how cells of the nervous system communicate with each other and  their environment during regenerative processes – or  when regeneration fails. I am currently focused on understanding if the mechanical environment influences neurons’ electrical properties and if it is one of the reasons why humans can’t regrow their neurons after spinal cord injury.

Before going further, I’d like to tell you a bit more about the brain and all the cells inside it. Our nervous system is not just neurons, there are other cells essential for proper brain function: glial cells. At first, glial cells were thought to be just a kind of glue around the neurons and didn’t really stir the interest of scientists before a few decades ago. Now, though, glia biology is an expending field of research, especially the interactions between neurons and glia. The main types of glial cells are astrocytes, microglia and oligodendrocytes.  Astrocytes, the “star-shaped” cells, provide supplies for neurons, help neuronal communication and modulate activity. Microglia, the “small” glia, are the immune cells of the central nervous system: they will react to damage. The oligodendrocytes, the cells with “few branches”, enwrap the axons with an insulated layer called myelin that protects the axons and increases their conduction speed. My favourites are the oligodendrocyte precursor cells, or OPCs. They are a kind of stem cell in the brain and their first role is to make new oligodendrocytes. Expect to read about them on this blog!!!

Hélène

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