Difference between Neurons and Neuroglia
By Theydiffer - April 6, 2016

There are various kinds of cells present inside the human brain. In this article, we will examine the differences between two types of such cells- neurons and neuroglia.

Definitions

3D representation of various types of neuroglia

Neuroglia, or glial cells, are sometimes also referred to as glia. They provide a variety of functions for  brain tissue. They support the metabolic and signaling functions of neurons.

Certain types of neuroglia are specialized in making myelin, of which the myelin sheath consists, and which serves as an insulation around axons, aiding significantly the propagations of electrical signals along axons. You can see the myelin sheath on the first picture with neuron structure.

Neuroglia also contribute to the organization and formation of a barrier between the blood and the brain.

The other function of neuroglia is participation in creating an inflammatory response in injured neural tissues, including phagocytosis of cellular debris.

Yet other kinds of neuroglia are responsible for the formation of scar tissue which is a response of the brain in case it or the spinal cord is damaged.

Different types of glial cells:

  1. Astrocytes. These are found in the grey matter of the brain, and are closely associated with the neuronal cell bodies, dendrites, and synapses. Astrocytes are responsible for taking up and processing neurotransmitters from synaptic clefts, described above.
  2. Oligodendrocytes. These are found in the white matter of the brain. They primarily responsible for forming myelin. In the peripheral nerve system the analogous cells are called Schwann cells.
    They also play a role in presenting antigens which influence the outgrowth of axons in developing and recovering the brain.
    One of the peculiar roles of this type of cells is that they are subject to immunological attack in diseases of the central nervous system, for example, multiple sclerosis.
  3. Microglial cells. These cells are a special type known as mononuclear phagocytes. These cells are derived from the cells that migrate into the brain during early embryonic development.
  4. Microglia cells are of two types – ramified and amoeboid. The former are initially in a dormant state, they wait until the injury is present in the organism. In the event of injury, they convert in the amoeboid cells, they are activated and ready to help fight with injuries.
  5. Glial stem cells. These are non-mature cells, which have the capacity to multiply and to differentiate. They are often found adjacent to blood vessels. They can mature to any form of the abovementioned neuroglia, and even to neurons.

Neurons vs Neuroglia

What is the difference between neurons and neuroglia?

In terms of their main function, neurons are primarily responsible for processing of neural signals. Neuroglia, on the other hand, support the electrical and chemical functions of neurons, which often involve simultaneous electrical and chemical processes.

Neurons are organized in circuits, while neuroglia participate in the formation of these circuits and in a variety of forms of synaptic plasticity (these processes are being investigated by a relatively new field of studies in neurobiology).

Neurons are surrounded by extracellular fluids, while neuroglia help maintain the ionic balance of these fluids, which is crucial for the capacity of the neurons to generate and maintain the electrical signaling.

Comparison chart

NeuronsNeuroglia
Are responsible for processing neural signalsAre responsible for support of electrical and chemical functions of neurons
Are organized in circuitsParticipate in making new synaptic connections in the brain and in maintaining synaptic plasticity
Generate electrical signaling with the help of ionic balance in extracellular fluidsMaintain ionic balance of fluids that surround neurons