Phagocytic glial cells: sculpting synaptic circuits in the developing nervous system

Curr Opin Neurobiol. 2013 Dec;23(6):1034-40. doi: 10.1016/j.conb.2013.09.012. Epub 2013 Oct 22.


In the developing nervous system, synaptic connections are formed in excess and must remodel to achieve the precise synaptic connectivity characteristic of the mature organism. Synaptic pruning is a developmental process in which subsets of synapses are eliminated while the remaining synapses are preserved and strengthened. Recent findings have demonstrated unexpected roles for glial cells in this developmental process. These data demonstrate that phagocytic glia engulf synaptic and/or axonal elements in the developing nervous system and disruptions in this process result in sustained deficits in synaptic connectivity. These new findings highlight the importance of glia for nervous system development and function and may shed new light on mechanisms underlying nervous system disease.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Neurogenesis / physiology*
  • Neuroglia / cytology
  • Neuroglia / physiology*
  • Phagocytes / cytology
  • Phagocytes / physiology*
  • Synapses / ultrastructure*