Glial cells: Old cells with new twists

Based on their characteristics and function - migration, neural protection, proliferation, axonal guidance and trophic effects - glial cells may be regarded as probably the most versatile cells in our body. For many years, these cells were considered as simply support cells for neurons. Recently, it has been shown that they are more versatile than previously believed - as true stem cells in the nervous system - and are important players in neural function and development. There are several glial cell types in the nervous system: the two most abundant are oligodendrocytes in the central nervous system and Schwann cells in the peripheral nervous system. Although both of these cells are responsible for myelination, their developmental origins are quite different. Oligodendrocytes originate from small niche populations from different regions of the central nervous system, while Schwann cells develop from a stem cell population (the neural crest) that gives rise to many cell derivatives besides glia and which is a highly migratory group of cells.