Neuroglia: Function & Definition

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  • 0:05 Your Brain's Support System
  • 1:05 Neuroglia
  • 1:59 Astrocytes
  • 3:00 Oligodendrocytes
  • 3:50 Ependymal Cells
  • 5:13 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

In this lesson, you'll learn about the unsung heroes of your nervous system. These cells don't get a lot of attention, but without them, it would be difficult for your neurons to do their job and protect themselves against invaders.

Your Brain's Support System

To serve, protect, and support. That almost sounds like something you'd read on the side of a police car. However, it's just as applicable to your central nervous system. There are special cells in your CNS that do just that: serve, protect, and support other cells. Without these special cells, you'd have quite a lot of trouble with day-to-day activities, like walking, speaking, or eating. Collectively, these cells are known as glial cells. But, there are a lot of subtypes of glial cells we'll get into, and they all have slightly different functions.


Neuroglia are cells in the nervous system that support neurons

Your central and peripheral nervous systems depend on certain cells that are sort of the unsung heroes of the nervous system. These cells that form myelin, protect, support, and maintain equilibrium in your nervous system are called glial cells. They are also commonly known as neuroglia and even more simply glia. In more detailed terms, neuroglia are cells in your nervous system that are not neurons. Their role is to be the support team and cheerleaders for the neurons. The neuroglia:

  • Form myelin, which wraps around axons to speed up electric impulse conduction
  • Provide nutrients to your neurons, including oxygen
  • Destroy pathogens
  • Provide a general support structure on which neurons can sit

In this lesson, we will focus on the neuroglia located in your central nervous system. This includes four large glial cells, called macroglia, three of which we will get into detail during this lesson. These four cells include:

  • Astrocytes
  • Oligodendrocytes
  • Ependymal Cells
  • Radial Glia


Astrocytes are star-shaped cells that are part of the blood-brain barrier
Star shaped cells

Star-shaped glial cells in the CNS are collectively known as astrocytes. 'Astro' implies 'star' and 'cyte' refers to 'cell'. Hence, we get 'astrocyte': a star-shaped cell. These glial cells are responsible for a lot of important things in the central nervous system; most notably, they are part of the blood-brain barrier.

Tiny little feet leave the astrocyte and help to encircle the vessels that make up the blood-brain barrier, which is a barrier that helps to prevent undesirable substances from entering the brain via blood vessels. In addition, astrocytes are responsible for:

  • Provision of nutrients for neurons
  • Structural support for nerve cells
  • Release and absorption of ions and neurotransmitters for improved modulation of cell-to-cell communication between neurons
  • Repair of the nervous system, among many other functions


In addition to all of the things I mentioned, astrocytes also help oligodendrocytes perform their job. Oligodendrocytes are a type of glial cell in the central nervous system that creates myelin sheaths around the axons of neurons. Don't be confused about the fact that Schwann cells create myelin for neuronal axons in the peripheral nervous system; it is the oligodendrocytes that perform the same function for cells in the central nervous system. The creation of myelin allows for the formation of myelin sheaths around neuronal axons. This myelin sheath allows for action potentials to travel down the axon much more efficiently and quickly compared to unmyelinated axons.

These glial cells create protective sheaths around the axons of neurons

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