Glial biology in learning and cognition

R. Douglas Fields, Alfonso Araque, Heidi Johansen-Berg, Soo Siang Lim, Gary Lynch, Klaus Armin Nave, Maiken Nedergaard, Ray Perez, Terrence Sejnowski, Hiroaki Wake

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

94 Scopus citations


Neurons are exquisitely specialized for rapid electrical transmission of signals, but some properties of glial cells, which do not communicate with electrical impulses, are well suited for participating in complex cognitive functions requiring broad spatial integration and long-term temporal regulation. Astrocytes, microglia, and oligodendrocytes all have biological properties that could influence learning and cognition. Myelination by oligodendrocytes increases conduction velocity, affecting spike timing and oscillations in neuronal activity. Astrocytes can modulate synaptic transmission and may couple multiple neurons and synapses into functional assemblies. Microglia can remove synapses in an activity-dependent manner altering neural networks. Incorporating glia into a bicellular mechanism of nervous system function may help answer long-standing questions concerning the cellular mechanisms of learning and cognition.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)426-431
Number of pages6
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 1 2014

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The Workshop on Glia in Learning and Cognition was held at the National Science Foundation (NSF) Headquarters in Arlington, Virginia, and sponsored by the National Science Foundation, Office of Naval Research, and National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD). Participants included C. Abraham, A. Araque, T. Behar, E. Ben-Jacob, P.J. Basser, A. Bordey, H. Eichenbaum, R.D. Fields, E. Gould, P. Haydon, H. Johansen-Berg, S.-S. Lim, G. Lynch, A. Majewska, C. Moore, K.-A. Nave, M. Nedergaard, R. Perez, W. Richardson, T. Sejnowski, S.J. Smith, B. Stevens, H. Wake, and S. Zucker.

Funding Information:
The author(s) disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article: This study was supported by funds for intramural research, NICHD and NSF grants SMA-1330402 and SMA-1258562 to R. Douglas Fields and Beth Stevens, Harvard University.

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2013.


  • astrocyte
  • memory
  • microglia
  • myelin
  • neuron-glia interactions
  • oligodendrocyte
  • synaptic plasticity

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