The Other Brain

Friday, January 22, 2010

Neuroscientist Douglas Field, explains how glia, which make up approximately 85 percent of the cells in the brain, work. In The Other Brain: From Dementia to Schizophrenia, How New Discoveries about the Brain Are Revolutionizing Medicine and Science, he explains recent discoveries in glia research and looks at what breakthroughs in brain science and medicine are likely to come.


Douglas Field,

Comments [24]


Dr. Fields
Kindly join the Sciences for Neurosciences discussion group via Linkedin (a little time for registering). We are discussing about glia.

Apr. 16 2012 05:02 PM
Ed Frodge from Hanson, Kentucky

Two years ago, my daughter was diagnosed with Fibromialgia after years of test and specialist diagnosing every disease known to man, because she presented with a multitude of symptoms as well, it was decided this was what she had.She was treated with the number one drug of choice.(Lyrica)It resulted in some major side effects with edima being the main problem.She suffered major weight gain,(+60lb)because of the fluid retension.Laysix was perscribed but was of little use in treating the fluid build-up.She was removed from Lyrica.but the fluid remained. On her on, she started researching her problems and found that some success in treating non specific symptoms that matched her Dx, she found a referance made to vitamin D. she asked her doc about being placed on a 50,000 iu of vitamin D once every 14 days after a blood test conferming a blood calcium level of 19.Normal range is considered to be betbeen 40-60.The results are amazing.She has had no reoccure nce of symptoms that supported the original Dx of fibromialgia.and is now pain free.and has been so for three months.I would not try this treatment without consulting with a with all treatments, many things have tio be taken into consideration pryor to taking any medication.This worked for my daughter but it does not mean it could work for you.SO ASK YOUR DOCTOR IF THIS CAN BE TRIED FOR YOUR CONDITION.Too much vitamin D can be dangerous if not deadly.

Jan. 29 2010 08:28 PM
John from New Jersey

What are the chances in breakthroughs on stem cell transplants of glia precursors? Two people I know have Multiple Sclerosis. One of them is fading fast and could benefit greatly from knowing whether there have been any clinical trials which have regenerated oligodendrocytes in MS patients. I am 3 years post transplant for an allogeneic transplant of blood stem cells from my brother. I had NonHodgkins Lymphoma for 12 years before the transplant and it kept coming back even after the most aggressive treatment. I am now cancer free for 3 years. Can MS patients benefit from the constantly improving treatment of stem cell transplants? Could Dr Douglas let me know if he has any information on this? I appreciate all the information he has provided in his podcast and subsequent blogs.

Jan. 29 2010 06:03 AM
J Tidwell from Texas

I have been diagnosed with RSD complex 1, so far. Stelates no longer seem effective. After reading the comments, I would like to know how can I help manage this disease more effectively. I feel so toxic at times. Would it help to take more B with folate, any dietary changes? I read an article about the possibility of remapping the signals of the "false pain". Does this have to do with the glia cells? Any advise or thoughts would be appreciated.

Jan. 27 2010 09:58 PM
Rita from New Jersey

During your interview you metioned that your studies might affect treatment of neurological diseases but I wasn't able to hear the whole interview. What are the implications of your studies and treating MS, Parkinson's and other such diseases? Is there a way for us to increase our glia cells? What dietary considerations are there to take care of what we do have? Thank you for taking the time to answer our questions!

Jan. 27 2010 12:03 AM
R Douglas Fields from Bethesda, MD

I am not sure which problem you are describing that resulted from the back surgery. I assume it is chronic pain. If so you will find much information on this in the book, The Other Brain, and also in an article I wrote published in the November 2009 issue of Scientific American. I wish you the best in recovering from your illness.

Jan. 24 2010 01:11 PM
R Douglas Fields from Bethesda, MD

One of the most powerful antioxidants provided by glia is glutathion. Many of the positive effects of diet and exercise to promote brain health work through glia. Exercise stimulates the birth of new neurons by the release of a growth factor, BDNF, for example. Glia are the source of the BDNF and they are the cells that give rise to new neurons.

Jan. 24 2010 01:08 PM
R Douglas Fields from Bethesda, MD

Regarding whether there are animals with neurons and no glia. This has been debated, but to my knowledge there are not. You may also be interested to know that the number of glia/neuron increases from lower to higher animals on the evolutionary tree.

Jan. 24 2010 01:04 PM
R Douglas Fields from Bethesda, MD

Regarding my research not being done at a major University. This is not a coincidence. I work at the NIH, a branch of the Federal government much like NASA, but devoted to the scientific investigation of the body. My colleagues at major universities must first obtain grant funding to support their research. This requires convincing a committee of experts that their research proposal is important and worth funding. This can limit exploration of risky new ideas and alternative ways of thinking. At the NIH the situation is reversed. We are provided funding without the need to convince reviewers that our experiments will be important. Then 4 years later we are examined by an external pannel of scientists to evaluate the importance of our research findings. If we have made important new discoveries, we are allowed another 4 years of research; if not, we lose our opportunity to do research at the NIH. It is a stressful situation, but this is done to promote innovative science. I am very grateful to the taxpayers for the opportunity to explore the fundamental mechanisms of how our brain works, is modified by experience, and fails in disease.

Jan. 24 2010 12:59 PM
R Douglas Fields from Bethesda, MD

Regarding re-examining our assumptions...yes, there is much new information in the book of practical and intellectual value, but at a deeper level this is a story of how science works and sometimes fails (untill it self-corrects). I hope to give the reader an inside view through the eyes of a scientist involved as a new insight into the brain is unfolding right now. As the information and new ways of thinking emerge, we are forced to re-examine some of our longest-held beliefs.

Jan. 24 2010 12:43 PM
R Douglas Fields from Bethesda, MD

It is as if a door has been opened to a new room full of new medicines for the brain directed toward glia. At the same time, many drugs that are used to treat neurological and psychiatric illness are no doubt working through glia. Glia have the same neurotransmitter receptors that neurons have, and most of the drugs used in treatment act on neurotransmitters. Prozac, for example, affects oligodendrocytes, a type of glial cell that makes myelin, the electrical insulation on nerve axons. Glial drugs are being tested for treatment of pain, spinal cord injury, cancer, and many other disorders. Most work is still in animal experiments, but clinical trials are now in progress in human patients.

Jan. 24 2010 12:38 PM
R Douglas Fields from Bethesda, MD

I am sorry to hear of the death of your mother. It is a blessing that so near the time of her passing she had the lucidity of mind long enough to say good bye in such a touching way. Many of us will not have that opportunity.

Astrocytes are involved in Parkinson's disease (PD). This and many other neurological disorders are caused by the death of neurons. Glia can take up toxic substances to protect neurons, but also release toxins in disease that will kill the substantia nigra neurons, which die in PD. Glia also release neurotrophic factors that help neurons grow and survive. There too many other roles of glia in PD to explain fully here.

Jan. 24 2010 12:33 PM
R Douglas Fields from Bethesda, MD

Calcium is an ideal way for cells to signal because there is such little calcium inside cells but ample supplies in the fluids outside them. So, even a small amount of calcium entering a glial cell triggers a response, the signal from a flashlight on a dark night. In terms of glial signaling, calcium deficiency in the body could not normally impair their communication.

Jan. 24 2010 12:25 PM
R Douglas Fields from Bethesda, MD

Yes, folate, one of the B vitamins, is very important in fetal development of the brain. Glia have a central role in fetal brain development by giving birth to neurons, giding their migration to the proper regions of the developing brain, and stimulating the formation of synapses. Glia cell division (proliferation) is stimulated by folate, for example. Proliferation of cells in the adult brain is important in recovery from chronic depression and other neurological illnesses.

Jan. 24 2010 12:20 PM
Ollie Wagers from Kentucky

are there any doctors making any head way in finding a cure for this awful diese i have had it for 12 long years i had back surgery and the Dr.nicked my spinal cord and i almost blead to death i use a lot of of epson salt to take my bath with please email me back and let me know what is beening done to help the ones that has this awful diese think you Ollie Wagers phone 16065467756

Jan. 23 2010 02:28 PM
Linda Thomas from Welland, Ontario, Canada

Hello I am also interested in the nutrition and brain connection. You said that glia cells are involved in release of antioxidants to prevent damage to the brain cells. What type of antioxidants and does the diet require them so that they can be utilized by the glia cells? Or are they involved with manufacturing of what they need from specific nutrients in the diet. Do people who have better diets have more glia? There are so many questions I would like to ask. Can her provide an online course? I would love to take it.

Jan. 23 2010 07:01 AM
Joe from Englewood, nj

Are there animals with neurons, but no glial cells?

Jan. 22 2010 12:31 PM
Hugh Sansom from Brooklyn NY

Notice that Douglas Field has no affiliation to Harvard, God's Greatest University?

Dr. Fields is doing cutting edge research on the unfashionable fringe and like many of the most inventive thinkers, is found outside the power-broker centers.

Jan. 22 2010 12:30 PM
Amy from Manhattan

Interesting parallel btwn. glia & dark matter, Leonard! I'd add introns in DNA, which used to be thought of as just structural elements filling space btwn. the introns. Can Dr. Field suggest any others? Maybe there should be a general push in various branches of science to reexamine similar assumptions.

Jan. 22 2010 12:25 PM
amy from london

it may seem like a silly question for a scientist, but what about the role of glia in consciousness...any thoughts on the proposal that our brain acts a conduit to connect to a field of higher consciousness?

Jan. 22 2010 12:22 PM
Hugh Sansom from Brooklyn NY

There has been an explosion in pharmaceuticals for mental illness in the past 20 years (prozac might be the most famous).

Does the new research on glial cells cast any of the 'traditional' research on mental illness in doubt? Can we expect an explosion in pharmaceutical products aimed at glial cells?

Jan. 22 2010 12:18 PM
Sainted_Mother from Harlem, NY

My ma died in 2005 after a year of drifting into serious dementia. I had her brain autopsied after her death and it showed non-Alzheimers, Parkinsonian-related dementia.

In the 2 years prior to her death, I had watched her "fade away" ... losing ability to converse (unless you could hold her side of conversation too, and she'd nod if you got it right) ... to one word and hard stares ... her last word to me, 2 weeks before her death was "Bye" ... she didn't give impression of being shut into her brain ... more like the people frozen / refreezing in that movie about dopamine (with Robin Williams?? Name escapes my brain today, sorry ...).

Am curious as to role of glial cells with respect to Parkinsons ...

Thanks ... great program.

Jan. 22 2010 12:15 PM
P. Jones from downtown Manhattan

Since the cells communicate with calcium, does calcium deficiency play any part in Alzheimers?

Jan. 22 2010 12:14 PM
j from bklyn

i remember hearing years ago that B vitamins are particularly important in one's diet for the maintenance of these cells.
any additional information on that, or other dietary info, especially as it might relate to dementia related disease patterns [from any number of causes from genetic to heart disease caused], and the healthful maintenance of long-term care patients?

Jan. 22 2010 02:11 AM

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