GFAP-Coronin1a Yu Wang

Image contributed by Yu Wang, a third year graduate student at Harvard Medical School.

Glial cells support the proper function of neuronal cell types and are also responsible for cleaning up cell debris such as leftover neurotransmitter molecules (what neurons use to communicate with each other). Certain types of glia, called microglia, function as the first line of defense in immune-privileged places such as the brain and eye. These tissues are rich in neurons, and therefore gilial-rich as well. Microglia and lymphocytes—another type of immune cell or “white blood cell”—are stained magenta in this stunning image of a mouse retina, indicating the presence of Coronin1a. This protein works with another protein, actin, to mediate cell processes such as phagocytosis and cell movement, key activities for successful cleanup of the surrounding tissue. Two additional types of glia, Muller cells and astrocytes, are stained cyan in this image, indicating the presence of Glial Fibrillary Acidic Protein (GFAP). This protein is thought to maintain the mechanical strength of glial cells, but its exact function is still unknown. It is known, however, that GFAP is upregulated when there is stress in the surrounding tissue.

To read the latest news surrounding the brain’s immune system, check out this great article by Marie Siwicki.

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