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Glial cells help shape brain

Glia and neurons collaborate to degrade unwanted axons during brain development

Helen Dell(helen.dell@absw.org.uk)

Glial cells, whose function is poorly understood, seem to cooperate actively with neurons to sculpt neural circuits in the developing brain, according to two studies published in the April 20 Current Biology.

During development, the controlled and programmed death of specific cells is as important as the survival of others; for example, the webbing on embryonic hands degenerates to fashion fingers from a clump of tissue, according to V. Hugh Perry, professor of experimental neuropathology at the University of Southampton, who was not involved in the studies. The brain is no exception. Brain development involves the production of excess neurons and axonal branches, which then die back in a process dubbed “pruning.”

Both papers study the remodeling of neural networks that occurs during the metamorphosis of Drosophila, where unwanted larval axons degrade to form adult neurons. The first paper, from Liqun Luo's lab at Stanford University, is...

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