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Oligodendrocytes are a supportive cell in the brain. They produces a protective coating – called myelin – which insulates the primary projecting branch of neuronal (called axons) and aids in the rapid transmission of signals in the brain.
Medical conditions associated with these cells include the inflammatory condition of multiple sclerosis. It is fair to say that oligodendrocytes have been largely neglected in the context of Parkinson’s research.
But that might be about to rapidly change.
In today’s post, we will discuss what oligodendrocytes do, and explore new research that may point towards a role for oligodendrocytes in Parkinson’s.
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The name “oligodendrocyte” comes from the Greek.
‘Oligos’ (ολιγος) meaning small or little; ‘dendros’ (δενδρος) meaning tree or bush; and ‘kytos‘ (κύτος) meaning ‘cavity’ or ‘cell’.
The name was given to cells in the brain with small branches by the Spanish neuroscientist Dr Pío del Río Hortega (1882–1945):
Pío del Río Hortega. Source: RTVE
Del Río Hortega developed a staining method that allowed him to differentiate what the great Ramón y Cajal referred to as the “third element” of cells in the brain. Initially calling them “interfascicular cells”, Del Río Hortega later changed the name to oligodendroglia.
(For those who would like to read more about Pio del Río-Hortega – click here for an excellent review)
Cool. But what do oligodendrocytes do?
In your brain there are different types of cells.
Firstly there are the neurons (the prima donnas that we believe do most of the communication of information). Next there are the microglia cells, which act as the first and main line of active immune defence in the brain. There are also oligodendrocyte, that wrap protective sheets around the branches of the neurons and help them to pass signals.
And then there are astrocytes.
These are the ‘helper cells’ which maintain a comfortable environment for the neurons and aid them in their task. Recently, researchers in California reported an curious observation in the Parkinsonian brain: some astrocytes have entered an altered ‘zombie’-like state. And this might not be such a good thing.
In today’s post, we’ll review the research and discuss what it could mean – if independently replicated – for the Parkinson’s community.
Zombies. Source: wallpapersbrowse
I don’t understand the current fascination with zombies.
There are books, movies, television shows, video games. All dealing with the popular idea of dead bodies wandering the Earth terrifying people. But why the fascination? Why does this idea have such appeal to a wide portion of the populous?
I just don’t get it.
Even more of a mystery, however, is where the modern idea of the ‘zombie’ actually came from originally.
You see, no one really knows.
Huh? What do you mean?
Some people believe that the word ‘zombie’ is derived from West African languages – ndzumbi means ‘corpse’ in the Mitsogo language of Gabon, and nzambi means the ‘spirit of a dead person’ in the Kongo language. But how did a word from the African continent become embedded in our psyche?
Others associate the idea of a zombie with Haitian slaves in the 1700s who believed that dying would let them return back to lan guinée (African Guinea) in a kind of afterlife. But apparently that freedom did not apply to situations of suicide. Rather, those who took their own life would be condemned to walk the Hispaniola plantations for eternity as an undead slave. Perhaps this was the starting point for the ‘zombie’.
More recently the word ‘zonbi’ (not a typo) appeared in the Louisiana Creole and the Haitian Creole and represented a person who is killed and was then brought to life without speech or free will.
Delightful stuff for the start of a post on Parkinson’s research, huh?
But we’re going somewhere with this.