We began our visit to the physical structure of the brain with neurons – the most commonly known brain cells – and we finish with glia cells.
Glia (which means “glue”) cells provide support to the brain. They outnumber neurons by about ten to one (I’ve also seen that described as 50 to 1!), and with all their numbers they might also be contributing to thought, though this has yet to be confirmed. Since there are some one hundred billion neurons, just try to imagine how many glia cells there are!
These good old glias are like a child’s devoted nanny. They take care of the neurons from the very beginning as the baby is forming in the womb. They feed the neurons and help the neurons traverse the brain. Turns out that the more any set of neurons is used by the brain, the more glia cells those neurons need. Happily, the glia cells can reproduce so we never run out of them.
Another task for the glias is to produce myelin, which is the substance that coats the axons of neurons. More myelin equals faster communication lines between neurons, kind of like a snowboard that goes faster and smoother with wax on it.