This Changes Everything: Cutting Edge Brain Info

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Dr. Charles Parker Does it Again!

by Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, CTP, CMC, ACT, MCC, SCAC
Another article in the Brain Based Resources Series

I promise that I’m not in Charlie Parker’s employ — we’re simply kindred spirits on the Learning to drive the very brain you were born with™ pathway, so I reference him A LOT!

So what did Parker do? He scooped me, as they say in the journalistic trade – publishing a story before this reporter could make it happen.

Usually out in front with the latest, his recent article — ADHD Insights: Glia Matters (subtitled, ADHD Evolution: Understanding the Other, Glial Brain) — includes an eighteen and a half minute video of a TED talk by PhD, Douglas Fields. Fields is the author of The Other Brain,  a book about a type of brain cell you probably haven’t heard a lot about up to now. But you WILL!

Cutting edge and right on the money where Brain-based Coaching is concerned, recent discoveries about glial cells point the way to a new frontier in cognitive neuroscience. Let’s see if I can catch you up a bit.

Neurons and Neuroglia

Science has believed for some time that the central nervous system consists of two main types of brain cells: neurons and glial cells [neuroglia]. Neuron-rich portions of the brain look greyish to our eyes because of capillary blood vessels and neuronal cell bodies — thus the brain’s nickname you have undoubtedly heard many times: “grey matter.

Since the heaviest neuron concentration is located in the cortex (that extremely shallow, wrinkly outer covering that was the last to develop in the human brain), many people expect to hear that brain cells are generally grey in color.  Nope!

Neurons – the building blocks of our “grey” matter – make up only about 15% of the cells that contribute to the structure of our brains.  As we move deeper into the brain, rich in neuroglia, white matter dominates (which actually, until it is preserved in formaldehyde, looks a pinkish white to our eyes.)

Athough glial cells dramatically outnumber neurons, it has long been thought that the two most referenced types of neurogia were primarily “support” structures. Their primary function, so we thought, was to protect the rest of the brain cells by adding structure (oligodendrocytes) and taking away waste products (astrocytes, or astroglia). Processing and cognition has long been associated with grey matter alone.

Recent research indicates that the brain cells making up our brains white matter (including their microglia buddies) have a whole lot more to do with a number of functions than was previously suspected.

From Wikipedia on Glial Cells (formatting mgh):

“As the Greek name implies, glia are commonly known as the glue of the nervous system; however, this is not fully accurate. Neuroscience currently identifies four main functions of glial cells:

[1] to surround neurons and hold them in place,
[2] to supply nutrients and oxygen to neurons,
[3] to insulate one neuron from another, and
[4] to destroy pathogens and remove dead neurons.

For over a century, it was believed that [neuroglia] did not play any role in neurotransmission. That idea is now discredited; they do modulate neurotransmission, although the mechanisms are not yet well understood.

Expanding the bio-electric paradigm

Among other important concepts, the neuron doctrine has held for about a century that the brain cells responsible for the communication relay-race essential for everything that allows us to function in our human bodies (thought, movement, autonomic bodily functions, etc.), did so by means of neurotransmitters – chemical messengers.  So far, that is still what neuroscience believes, fundamentally.

Our understanding of the process of delivery of those chemical messages is what seems to be rapidly expanding — in ways our forefathers would never have been able to imagine — primarily because science could only see what the state of technology at the time could show them.


I’ll review what we believed, until quite recently — background for you to be able to understand the truly startling implications of the latest thinking, illuminated by more newly developed technologies.

The method of neurotransmitter delivery, cell to cell, was believed to be initiated by a process made possible by the fact that there is a tiny difference in electrical charge between the inside and the outside of the cell wall (the cell membrane).

Neurons were identified as the specialized brain cells that could detect these small electrical charges, using them to begin a chemical cascade to transmit those charges to other cells, activating additional intracellular processes that kept the chemical cascade going.

This is how they do that “detective” work

At rest, a neuron is negatively charged: 75 millivolts less than outside of the cell (a millivolt is a thousandth of a volt). Inside each neuron is an active “biological pump” that pushes positively charged particles out of the cell, while the cell membrane keeps negatively charged particles inside the cell.

When a neuron is stimulated (at synaptic sites, or synapses), it quickly raises the electrical charge inside the cell. This reverses the charge differential –  meaning that the charge inside the cell is now greater than the charge outside the cell membrane.

BAM!  The starting gun has been fired and the race is on.

News We Can Use

It turns out we weren’t exactly wrong, but we weren’t exactly right either – there is a lot more to the communication story than what has been developed from the understanding provided by the neuron doctrine alone.

As Fields points out in his TED video, this is a fundamental change in how we conceive of how our brain transfers information between cells — as revolutionary as the idea of cell phone transmission via satellite would be to someone who was only familiar with what we now call “land lines.”

This is HUGE news that has implications that possibly may lead to breakthroughs in healing that have stymied medical researchers for some time: brain cancer, Alzheimers, and HIV-related dementia among them.

It also carries the potential of transforming the thinking that has lead to theories about the process of learning, as well as the underlying mechanism behind developmental disorders, neurological – and psychological – conditions, including the very real possibility of opening the door to exciting new research on processing speed and processing fluency.

Enough READING, time to watch, listen and learn

NOW, its time to jump over to ADHD Insights: Glia Matters on Dr. Parker’s CorePsychblog to watch the eighteen minute video, introduced by a brief explanation by Parker.  [You will hear some really annoying static about half-way through — hang tight, it goes away relatively quickly, and you don’t want to miss what comes afterwards!].

Stay tuned – future articles will expand on what you will hear in Dr. Fields TED video, and a whole lot more!

As always, if you want notification of new articles in the Brain-based Resources series – or any new posts on this blog – give your name and email to the nice form on the top of the skinny column to the right.  (You only have to do this once, so if you’ve already asked for notification about a prior series, you’re covered for this one too)
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 Green Oligodendrocyte: one of several types of neuroglia, and
Synapse graphic courtesy of Wikipedia, under the Creative Commons License

BY THE WAY: Since is an Evergreen site, I revisit all my content periodically to update links — when you link back, like, follow or comment, you STAY on the page. When you do not, you run a high risk of getting replaced by a site with a more generous come-from.

About Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, MCC, SCAC
Award-winning ADD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching field co-founder; [life] Coaching pioneer -- Neurodiversity Advocate, Coach, Mentor & Poster Girl -- Multi-Certified -- 25 years working with EFD [Executive Functioning disorders] and struggles in hundreds of people from all walks of life. I developed and delivered the world's first ADD-specific coach training curriculum: multi-year, brain-based, and ICF Certification tracked. In addition to my expertise in ADD/EF Systems Development Coaching, I am known for training and mentoring globally well-informed ADD Coach LEADERS with the vision to innovate, many of the most visible, knowledgeable and successful ADD Coaches in the field today (several of whom now deliver highly visible ADD coach trainings themselves). For almost a decade, I personally sponsored and facilitated seven monthly, virtual and global, no-charge support and information groups The ADD Hours™ - including The ADD Expert Speakers Series, hosting well-known ADD Professionals who were generous with their information and expertise, joining me in my belief that "It takes a village to educate a world." I am committed to being a thorn in the side of ADD-ignorance in service of changing the way neurodiversity is thought about and treated - seeing "a world that works for everyone" in my lifetime. Get in touch when you're ready to have a life that works BECAUSE of who you are, building on strengths to step off that frustrating treadmill "when 'wanting to' just doesn't get it DONE!"

2 Responses to This Changes Everything: Cutting Edge Brain Info

  1. Pingback: Naps help Memory | ADD . . . and-so-much-more

  2. Pingback: Emotional Mastery to help us move forward | ADD . . . and-so-much-more

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