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How are Brain Cells Different from Other Cells?

By Ken Black
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Brain cells are different than other types of body cells in a number of different ways. Perhaps most importantly, their function is different than that of most cells. While most body cells simply carry fuel, such as nutrients and oxygen or help fight off disease or aid in clotting, brain cells have a different function altogether. Understanding these functions not only helps humans understand how the brain works, but also how to fix brain problems.

One of the most common misconceptions put forth throughout most of the 20th century was that brain cells cannot regenerate. This was a stark difference when compared to other types of cells in the body, which nearly continually regenerate. It is also a difference that is very much incorrect, however. In 1998, researchers in Sweden and the Salk Institute in California proved the cells could regrow, although the information stored in the previous cells will likely be gone forever. Also, the way the new cells connect with others may not be exactly the same. This is why rehabilitation after brain injuries is so important.

Despite this breakthrough, brain cells remain very distinct from other body parts in many ways. Neurons make up many of the cells specific to the brain. They produce electrical impulses to transfer information.

Without these cells, it would be impossible for any animal with a brain to transmit information between cells. Thus, information received could never be stored. Chances are, it would never even register with the animal. As their name would suggest, they are the workhorse of the nervous system. There are approximately 40 billion neurons in the brain, but they do not make up the majority of brain cells.

Another type of cell in the brain is the glial cell, of which there are three different types, depending on the function. These cells often work in support of the neurons. Some are meant to protect the neurons by putting a buffer around them. Others are used for nutritional support and others work with the immune system. These make up the majority of brain cells.

Brain research that is concerned with the functioning of a person after an injury is likely specifically focused on neural paths. Without good facilitation between neurons, there is no chance for a full recovery. Scientists and medical doctors, such as a neurologist, do not depend on an artificial reconnection of neurons. Rather, the brain must naturally form new connections. In cases where that happens, recovery can be promising.

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Discussion Comments

By anon48059 — On Oct 09, 2009

Article really is very well written.

By anon47890 — On Oct 07, 2009

My concern is the dead brain cells that contained the information that is now lost. I don't feel as smart as I used to. I'm only 29, so I dare say that it is not just old age setting in. I want to feel sharp, quick, and witty like I used to. I would also like to absorb info and pay attention better. Any suggestions?

By anon47593 — On Oct 06, 2009

In her last few months of lung cancer, my mother suffered a stroke. The initial symptoms of her not identifying her own right hand were weird but a scan confirmed it. With your article I can relate to the doctor's suggestions of giving her everyday objects like coins etc. to handle, or try to identify colours and pictures. The doctor concerned actually went beyond his area of specialization in the diagnosis but I remember my mother finding it demeaning. Does it mean that that she had not suffered to that extent or that she recovered soon?

By anon47520 — On Oct 05, 2009

It's not necessary to post my thoughts. I was just glad to share what some might never have considered.

By anon47519 — On Oct 05, 2009

Many years ago I felt nerve fibers, cells, did regenerate with time. The only difference is regular cells grow much faster than nerve cells and that's why it takes much longer to establish those pathways when nerve tissue is damaged.

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