How does the fatty tissue surrounding neurons supports and enhances the speed of electrical impulses? How does it stabilize connections that take control of impulses and decision-making? The cells surrounding the neurons in this case being either glial cells (neuroglia) which provide support and protection for neurons in the central nervous system and peripheral nervous system, or myelin an insulating sheath around many of the nerve fibers consisting of proteins and phospholipids.

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    $\begingroup$ This is a broad question. There are different types of cells that surround the neurons and they have critical roles in ensuring proper function of the nervous system. Each of these cell types have a unique function. Please edit your question to add some details or else this question would be closed. $\endgroup$
    Commented Oct 21, 2015 at 10:08
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    $\begingroup$ I hope you aren't confusing "impulse" with action potential (sometimes called nerve impulse). $\endgroup$
    – Memming
    Commented Oct 21, 2015 at 11:20
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    $\begingroup$ @Memming Apologies if was not specific/clear enough, I mean impulse as in the relaying of a coded signal that travels along a nerve membrane to an effector, such as muscle or other nerve cells $\endgroup$
    – Ebbinghaus
    Commented Oct 21, 2015 at 11:57
  • $\begingroup$ Possible duplicate of biology.stackexchange.com/q/14249/3340 $\endgroup$
    Commented Oct 21, 2015 at 13:31

1 Answer 1


Short answer
This question is pretty broad as it basically translates to "what purpose serves neuroglia in neuronal communication"? In short: next to everything.

In the adult brain there are three types of glia: oligodendrocytes, astrocytes, and microglial cells (Purves, 2001). A few notable examples of their functions:

  1. Oligodendrocytes (peripherally called Schwann cells) generate myelin sheaths around neurons, which increases conduction speeds (saltatory nerve conduction) and increases the metabolic efficiency of neural communication.
  2. Astrocytes are a highly heterogeneic group of supportive cells. To put the impact of glia in perspective: this class of cells is considered to contain as many cell types as there are types of neurons in the brain. They are thought to mediate transfer of nutrients from blood capillaries to neurons, and they also assist in removal of neurotransmitters from the synaptic cleft and thereby speed up the recovery from synaptic activity and hence they increase the speed of information transfer (Tsacopoulos & Magistretti, 1996).
  3. Microglia are the brain's immune cells, and are similar to peripheral macrophages. They act as the major inflammatory cell type in the brain, and respond to pathogens and injury.

- Purves et al (eds). Neuroscience, 2nd edition. Sunderland (MA): Sinauer Associates (2001)
- Tsacopoulos & Magistretti, J Neurosci (1996); 76(3): 877-85

  • $\begingroup$ Microglia are also involved in synaptic pruning thereby regulating the development of the neural network and reducing noisy impulses (ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21778362). $\endgroup$
    Commented Oct 21, 2015 at 13:29
  • $\begingroup$ @WYSIWYG - there are really a myriad of functions. I mentioned a few notable examples above, as explicitly mentioned in my answer. $\endgroup$
    – AliceD
    Commented Oct 21, 2015 at 20:25

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