Brain Cells

I’ve been thinking about brain cells. Obviously they are in the brain, so…the thing that I am, is safe behind a skull, which used to have a cushion of hair around it. Is male pattern baldness the first step to eventual oblivion? Is the brain in danger?

Then it occurred to me that a certain percentage of brain cells may have escaped and taken up residence somewhere else. We talk about “gut feeling”, is it really “gut thinking”? Or, what about the heart? Why is it that the lungs never get feeling/thinking credit? Or perhaps the tip of the little finger on the left hand? Could millions of brain cells decide to migrate to the little finger, knowing that age has exposed their native “homeland” to danger? They are “brain cells” after all, they could think of these things.

As always, Google search can offer some suggestions…

Aside from the structural tissue and blood vessels, the brain consists of two types of cells, neurons and glia cells. Neurons have this wonderful electrical ability to pass information from one cell to another. Neurons group together in nuclei, and are connected to other nuclei by tracts. Their “homeland” is the cerebral cortex. However, neurons exist throughout the body and fall into three categories: sensory, motor, or interneurons. Sensory is massive throughout the skin, and they send messages about the world back to the brain. Motor neurons are in the heart, intestinal system, diaphragm, and glands. They assist in the primary functions of those tissues.

Glia cells are the most numerous and mysterious. They assist the neurons but nobody is quite sure of everything they do. I’ll just repost this paragraph because I’m not certain how to reword it.

“Glial cells are the supporting cells of the neurons. The three types of glial cells are astrocytes, oligodendrocytes, and ependymal cells, known collectively as macroglia, and the smaller scavenger cells known as microglia. Glial stem cells are found in all parts of the adult brain. Glial cells greatly outnumber neurons and apart from their supporting role to neurons, glia – astrocytes in particular have been acknowledged as being able to communicate with neurons involving a signalling process similar to neurotransmission called gliotransmission. They cannot produce an action potential as generated by a neuron but in their large numbers they can produce chemicals expressing excitability that exert an influence on neural circuitry. The star-like shape of the astrocyte allows contact with a great many synapses.”

Very suspicious, and maybe glia does some thinking as well. I bet that if some independent minded neurons left the brain, a good many glia cells would follow and help set up camp wherever they went.

Interneurons provide the inter communication between the sensory and the motor neurons. So, knowing this… which neurons think? I’m betting that thinking and communication are linked, it makes sense that interneurons throughout the body provide some sort of “thinking”. We somehow accept a “gut feeling”, but what about the skin? If you say no, then why does your skin “crawl”?

Your lungs appear to be somewhat empty of neurons, but the diaphragm has a bunch. Ever catch your breathe? Taste, hearing, smell and sight also has tons of interneurons, but we never (or rarely) give credit for them thinking. There maybe something special about smell neurons connecting to memory storage.

The possibility of brain cells intentionally migrating to safer parts of the body is intriguing, but going to the extremities seems not logical. Stubbing your toe, or getting your hand caught in a door is proof enough that it is dangerous out there.

My bet is that the “colonists” would head for the “Vagus Nerve”. Look it up, it’s a spinal nerve, completely protected by the torso, with quick exits to all the major populations of interneuron activity. Apparently there is a major collection near the tail-bone, where it is no longer needed to wag something.

Perhaps we can “think” from our butt in future decades.

About johndiestler

Retired community college professor of graphic design, multimedia and photography, and chair of the fine arts and media department.
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