Roles of glial cells in neural circuit formation: Insights from research in insects

Lynne A. Oland, Leslie P. Tolbert

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


Investigators over the years have noted many striking similarities in the structural organization and function of neural circuits in higher invertebrates and vertebrates. In more recent years, the discovery of similarities in the cellular and molecular mechanisms that guide development of these circuits has driven a revolution in our understanding of neural development. Cellular mechanisms discovered to underlie axon pathfinding in grasshoppers have guided productive studies in mammals. Genes discovered to play key roles in the patterning of the fruitfly's central nervous system have subsequently been found to play key roles in mice. The diversity of invertebrate species offers to investigators numerous opportunities to conduct experiments that are harder or impossible to do in vertebrate species, but that are likely to shed light on mechanisms at play in developing vertebrate nervous systems. These experiments elucidate the broad suite of cellular and molecular interactions that have the potential to influence neural circuit formation across species. Here we focus on what is known about roles for glial cells in some of the important steps in neural circuit formation in experimentally advantageous insect species. These steps include axon pathfinding and matching to targets, dendritic patterning, and the sculpting of synaptic neuropils. A consistent theme is that glial cells interact with neurons in two-way, reciprocal interactions. We emphasize the impact of studies performed in insects and explore how insect nervous systems might best be exploited next as scientists seek to understand in yet deeper detail the full repertory of functions of glia in development.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1273-1295
Number of pages23
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2011


  • Drosophila, Manduca, olfactory
  • Pruning
  • Visual system

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


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