August 12, 2013

We should become less neuron-centric

Mo Costandi, author of 50 Human Brain Ideas You Really Need to Know, has written an interesting new article: A new way of thinking about how the brain works. In this article he says that a dominant way of thinking about the brain, namely that it is basically a network of cells. A bit more specifically, Costandi speaks of the Neuron Doctrine which states that: 1) the neuron is the fundamental structural and functional unit of the nervous system; 2) neurons are discrete cells which are not continuous with other cells; 3) the neuron is composed of 3 parts – the dendrites, axon and cell body; and 4) information flows along the neuron in one direction (from the dendrites to the axon, via the cell body).

While this is the dominant way of thinking about the brain, according to Costandi, it is largely wrong. In particular, the first point is wrong. He says that neurons are only half the picture. Non-neuronal cells, which are collectively known as glia, of which there are three types - astrocytes, microglia, and oligodendrocytes - which where thought to play a mere neuron- supporting role actually play a far more important role in proper brain function and information processing than was previously thought (I mentioned this before in this post). 

When thinking about the brain, we should become less neuron-centric.

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