Brain cells

Cells are the basic building blocks of all living things. The human body is composed of trillions of cells. Every organ in our body is made up of particular types of cells which carry out specific functions.

Throughout the brain and spinal cord we all have nerve cells called 'neurons', which transmit 'messages' (electrical and chemical signals).

a graphic diagram of a brain neuron

Surrounding our neurons are cells called glial cells. Glial cells support and protect the neurons, provide the neurons with oxygen and nutrients, and remove dead cells. Glial cells are much smaller than neurons and we have many more glial cells than neurons.

There are different types of glial cell, each of which plays a different role in supporting the neurons. The main types are astrocytes, oligodendrocytes and ependymal cells.

a graphic diagram of a brain cell neuron

Brain cells and brain tumours

Brain tumours can develop from any of these types of glial cells. Glioma is the collectivename for this group of tumours.

However, gliomas will also have a more specific name depending on which type of glial cell the tumour grows from:

  • Brain tumours that grow from astrocytes are called astrocytomas
  • Brain tumours that grow from oligodendrocytes are called oligodendrogliomas
  • Brain tumours that grow from ependymal cells are called ependymomas.

Read more about different brain tumour types.

Learn more

For information about brain tumour symptoms and side effects, visit our understanding brain tumours pages.

You can also read more about the human brain.

Page last reviewed: 11/2015
Next review due: 11/2018

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