The history of radial glia

Brain Res Bull. 1999 Jul 15;49(5):305-15. doi: 10.1016/s0361-9230(99)00065-9.


Radial glial cells are now recognized as a transient population that serves as scaffolding for neuronal migration. The recognition of the existence and role of radial glia has not been smooth, and here we provide a brief historical overview on the pioneering studies on this subject. The histologists and embryologists Albert Kölliker and Wilhelm His performed seminal investigations on cortical morphogenesis in the last decades of the 19th century. However, the introduction of the silver impregnation Golgi technique, and its diffusion in the late 1880s, played a crucial role in the detection of radial glial processes. The radial arrangement of fibers emerging from the neuroepithelium lining the central canal was initially detected in the embryonic spinal cord by Camillo Golgi himself. The first Golgi impregnation of the cerebral cortex of mammalian fetuses was performed by Giuseppe Magini, who detected radial fibers extending from the ventricular neuroepithelium, and observed cells intercalated along these processes. Radial fibers, regarded as epithelial or ependymal processes, were then observed in the developing spinal cord and cerebral cortex by several investigators. Santiago Ramón y Cajal was the first to suggest that radial fibers were modified astrocytic processes functioning as a support during cortical histogenesis. Cajal acknowledged Magini's findings, but he criticized Magini's observations on the existence of neurons along radial fibers. With the advent of electron microscopy, the existence of radially arranged glial processes along which young neurons migrate was finally ascertained in the early 1970s by Pasko Rakic, thus opening a new era in the cellular and molecular biology of radial glia.

Publication types

  • Historical Article

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cerebral Cortex / growth & development
  • History, 19th Century
  • History, 20th Century
  • Humans
  • Neuroglia / physiology*
  • Neuroglia / ultrastructure*
  • Neurosciences / history*