Glial cells are not passive spectators during nervous system assembly, rather they are active participants that exert significant control over neuronal development. Well-established roles for glia in shaping the developing nervous system include providing trophic support to neurons, modulating axon pathfinding, and driving nerve fasciculation. Exciting recent studies have revealed additional ways in which glial cells also modulate neurodevelopment. Glial cells regulate the number of neurons at early developmental stages by dynamically influencing neural precursor divisions, and at later stages by promoting neuronal cell death through engulfment. Glia also participate in the fine sculpting of neuronal connections by pruning excess axonal projections, shaping dendritic spines, and secreting multiple factors that promote synapse formation and functional maturation. These recent insights provide further compelling evidence that glial cells, through their diverse cellular actions, are essential contributors to the construction of a functionally mature nervous system.
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