I was discussing this with my brother. I'm pretty sure I read somewhere that they can move.


EDIT: By movement I mean long distance migration (preferably within the brain only).

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    $\begingroup$ If I recall correctly, there is neuronal migration during embryonic development? If you have a better wording for this, tell me so I can edit my Q. Thanks. $\endgroup$ – DLV Dec 15 '14 at 6:41
  • $\begingroup$ Possible duplicate of this post $\endgroup$ – WYSIWYG Dec 15 '14 at 7:18
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    $\begingroup$ Do you consider the cells of a malignant brain tumor "brain cells"? Because they do move when invading the tissue. $\endgroup$ – rumtscho Dec 15 '14 at 19:27

The question is relatively broad and one should take into account that the brain not only consists of neurons, but also glial cells (supportive cells) and pre-mitotic neuronal stem cells. Furthermore, as critical fellow-scientists have indicated, developmental stage is very important, as the developing embryonic brain is very different from the adult brain.

However, after sifting through various publications, the answer to the question is actually remarkably simple: Yes, brain cells migrate.

In the adult brain glial cells migrate in the brain (Klämbt, 2009). Glial cells are involved in a myriad of functions, but a notable example of migrating glial cells are the oligodendrocytes that migrate relative long distances to find their target axons onto which they wrap themselves to form the insulating myelin sheath (Tsai and Miller, 2002).

Neuronal stem cells migrate over long distances in response to injury (Imitola et al., 2004) and they migrate from specific stem-cell locations (e.g., hippocampus and subventricular zone) to other regions (Clarke, 2003).

Interestingly, post-mitotic (fully differentiated, not-dividing) neurons can also be migratory in the adult brain. Specifically, newly formed neurons can migrate over hundreds of microns in fish (Scott et al., 2012) and neuronal migration has been shown in the human cortex as well (Fox et al., 1998).

Not surprisingly, glial cells, stem cells and neurons also migrate during embryonic development. Most notably, post-mitotic neurons destined to fulfill peripheral functions have to migrate over relatively long distances from the neural crest to their target locations (Neuroscience, 2nd ed, Neuronal Migration).

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    $\begingroup$ That's interesting. $\endgroup$ – Chris Dec 15 '14 at 11:38
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    $\begingroup$ Great answer. Glial cells (resident, supporting cells) also include resident immune cells, such as microglia, which are related to the monocyte lineage $\endgroup$ – Luke Dec 15 '14 at 14:18
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    $\begingroup$ "oligodendrocytes ... wrap themselves to form the insulting myelin sheath" - wait, what? TIL. $\endgroup$ – John Dvorak Dec 16 '14 at 4:20
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    $\begingroup$ Not only that, I didn't know the myelin sheath is formed by having some extra cells migrate into place. I thought they were acellular and grew from the axon? $\endgroup$ – John Dvorak Dec 16 '14 at 4:28
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    $\begingroup$ Yep, they are definitely cellular - follow the citing link, grab any neuroscience textbook, or everyone's best pal wikipedia: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Myelin. Thanks for the typo though :) $\endgroup$ – AliceD Dec 16 '14 at 4:30

To add to Christiaan's answer, I'll mention one striking example of long-distance neuronal migration in the adult mammalian brain: the so-called Rostral Migratory Stream found in rodents, in rabbits and both the squirrel and rhesus monkey.

Neuronal precursors originating in the subventricular zone (SVZ) of the brain migrate to reach the main olfactory bulb (OB), and it's quite a distance for the small cells.

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