What glial cells do and what Einstein's brain has to do with it.

i-63c4d36e87cf5a477db95f1b24c1eabf-Einstein's_brain_(Lancet).jpgThe role of glial cells - or cells that "glue" the neurons together - has traditionally been that of a house keeper, cooking up and serving food, cleaning up waste products, and holding everything in place. In recent years the role of glial cells has been expanded somewhat, which leads us to Einstein's brain:

In 1985 scientists at the University of California in Berkeley published anatomical studies of slivers of Einstein's brain after counting the different cells in the organ. They found the only difference between his brain and those of dead doctors was a greater ratio of glial cells to neurons.

"We know from animal studies that as you go from invertebrates to other animals and primates, as intelligence increases, so does the ratio of glial cells to neurons," said Professor Volterra, whose study appears in the journal Nature Neuroscience.

So what are the glial cells doing?

The scientists said the cells provide energy for neural circuits and help build connections, leading to a more complex brain structure.

Read the Guardian article here.
Ohh... yeah... this really is Einstein's brain.

More like this

Ever since I started to learn about brains, back in the mid 1980s, from some really brainy brain experts like Terry Deacon and Joe Marcus, I always knew that glial cells were important. But I now read in current material in Nature Neuroscience, that "A decade ago, glia were the neglected…
Photo by Einat Adar  Our feathered friends provide us with some beautiful examples of the link between brain and behaviour. In some bird species, groups of cells involved in seasonal behaviours die after they have performed their function, but are regenerated by neurogenesis as and when they…
My last post on David Brooks, conservatism and neuroscience inspired a spirited debate. I argued that the discoveries of modern neuroscience seem to support liberal public policies focused on reducing levels of inequality: While conservatives tend to regard poverty as primarily a cultural issue,…
I've got a long article in Nature this week on Jeff Lichtman (of Brainbow fame) and the birth of connectomics, which seeks to construct a complete wiring diagram of the brain: At first glance, Jeff Lichtman seems to be hanging long strips of sticky tape from the walls of his Harvard lab. The tape…

Sorry, but I don't believe that Einstein's brain was structured differently. Sounds like a scientific urban legend. Proof please, and it better be very convincing.

Einstein's brain did apparently have some abnormalities, which were reported in a 1985 study:


The relative importance of those differences are discussed in this paper:


There are quite a few papers that talk about Einstein's brain but from my initial glance at it, it seems like they all make some reference to that 1985 paper.

The finding is not an urban legend, but the importance of the finding may be.

We do not know precisely how any brain functions not to speak of Einstein's brain. So the discussion is superfluous. Only recording of the findings is important that may be used later. If Quantum physics is involved in brain function the glial cells may be important as the Matrix.

By jajnavalkya (not verified) on 22 Feb 2007 #permalink

It seems to me that a big problem in making any inferences about Einstein's brain is that it was stored in formalin in a Bell jar in Wichita, Kansas for many years before any anatomical studies were perfomred on it.

By Gary Greenberg (not verified) on 22 Feb 2007 #permalink

Thanks for the link. I'm surprised and impressed that there is at least some evidence, but I'd still like more. Wikipedia mentions criticisms of the study (but doesn't reference them and I don't have access to scholarly articles). Scientists have been preserving brains of geniuses for many years; has anyone else looked for structural differences?

Well, now I know why so many high school "gifted" kids couldn't do more than regurjutate.