, Volume 30, Issue 4, pp 584-594
Date: 11 Jul 2014

Glial cells in neuronal development: recent advances and insights from Drosophila melanogaster

Abstract

Glia outnumber neurons and are the most abundant cell type in the nervous system. Whereas neurons are the major carriers, transducers, and processors of information, glial cells, once considered mainly to play a passive supporting role, are now recognized for their active contributions to almost every aspect of nervous system development. Recently, insights from the invertebrate organism Drosophila melanogaster have advanced our knowledge of glial cell biology. In particular, findings on neuron-glia interactions via intrinsic and extrinsic mechanisms have shed light on the importance of glia during different stages of neuronal development. Here, we summarize recent advances in understanding the functions of Drosophila glia, which resemble their mammalian counterparts in morphology and function, neural stem-cell conversion, synapse formation, and developmental axon pruning. These discoveries reinforce the idea that glia are substantial players in the developing nervous system and further advance the understanding of mechanisms leading to neurodegeneration.