In this article for Scientific American, I explore a new study that found how “leaky” communication between nerve cells can actually be a good thing. In fact, these signal leaks seem to be crucial for triggering new brain cells to form.
Plus, leaky connections like these seem to enable neuroglia – the brain’s mysterious “quiet cells,” which support and influence neurons’ behavior – to listen in on neural gossip that’s floating around.
You can imagine neural stem cells as being sort of “neural embryos” – depending on the surrounding conditions, they can develop into neurons or into glia. And here’s what’s strange about the way these cells communicate: They respond not to any single synaptic signal, but to the overall chemical “vibe” of their environment – to chronic feelings of stress, for instance. By way of response, they may morph into neurons or glia – or even tell the brain to crank out some all-new cells.
Read more of my article at Scientific American.