Sticky stars and the neural universe

By Timothy Cocks Great minds 10 Apr 2015

The NOI2012 Neurodynamics and Neuromatrix conference maintains a special place in the hearts and minds of those who attended (and sometimes makes an appearance in the nightmares of those who organised this colossal event). There was something a bit special, a bit different, about this conference – a vibe that’s hard to define. Honourifics and titles were dropped – there were no introductions of “Professor this” or “Doctor that”, just, “Here’s Fiona” or “Welcome Charles”. There were many exceptional speakers and more than a few worldview-changing moments.

One of the stand-out, paradigm shifting presentations came from Mick Thacker. Mick was funny, brilliantly entertaining, deeply knowledgeable, respectful and humble all in one. But he didn’t pull any punches in regards to the need for clinicians to keep up to date and incorporate a whole new, and extremely complex, body of work. Mick made no apologies for making everyone’s job harder, but did so with humour and great humanity – putting the person experiencing pain at the centre of the therapeutic universe.

Mick has been exceptionally kind and has agreed to have his entire presentation posted here on noijam. So without further ado….

“Sticky stars and the neural universe – 

neuronal glia interactions and pain”

[vimeo 124365315 w=500 h=281]


For those who might like to read a little while watching, here’s Mick’s abstract for his presentation:

Glial cells outnumber neurones in the central nervous by about 20 to 1, until recently they were thought to serve functions that were separate and subservient to neuronal processing and often ascribed passive roles such as ‘packing’ spaces between neurones or ‘sticking’ neurones together. These views are now seriously out of date. There are several distinct subtypes of glial cells in the human central nervous system, most notably microglia and astrocytes. The role of these cells in neural processing and the production of phenomena that were traditionally thought to be the sole consequence of neuronal activity has received a huge amount of attention in recent years.

Pain science has been and is still dominated by neurocentric perspectives where only neuronal tissue has been thought important in higher level processing. Whilst this is ‘understandable’ to a degree, modern research suggests that this is a limited and potentially misleading view. I was lucky enough to be involved in work that was at the vanguard of research into the role of glia in the generation and maintenance of pain. I remember being told that this was a worthless pursuit by several eminent pain neuroscientists, little did they, or we, know at that time about the importance of these systems in the mechanisms of pain.

My talk will outline the glial system and its major functions within the nervous system. I will describe the key findings in this field and attempt to place this work into a bigger picture of how we should use this data to facilitate a better understanding of pain from both research and clinical perspectives.

Mick, in my best ‘Stralian – thanks heaps mate!

– Tim Cocks




  1. marcel ..........


    The numbers mentioned of a glia to neuron ratio of 20-1 are incorrect please see reference:

    Equal numbers of neuronal and nonneuronal cells make the human brain an isometrically scaled-up primate brain. Azevedo, Herculano-Houzel S. et al

    Abstract The human brain is often considered to be the most cognitively capable among mammalian brains and to be much larger than expected for a mammal of our body size. Although the number of neurons is generally assumed to be a determinant of computational power, and despite the widespread quotes that the human brain contains 100 billion neurons and ten times more glial cells, the absolute number of neurons and glial cells in the human brain remains unknown. Here we determine these numbers by using the isotropic fractionator and compare them with the expected values for a human-sized primate. We find that the adult male human brain contains on average 86.1 +/- 8.1 billion NeuN-positive cells (“neurons”) and 84.6 +/- 9.8 billion NeuN-negative (“nonneuronal”) cells. With only 19% of all neurons located in the cerebral cortex, greater cortical size (representing 82% of total brain mass) in humans compared with other primates does not reflect an increased relative number of cortical neurons. The ratios between glial cells and neurons in the human brain structures are similar to those found in other primates, and their numbers of cells match those expected for a primate of human proportions. These findings challenge the common view that humans stand out from other primates in their brain composition and indicate that, with regard to numbers of neuronal and nonneuronal cells, the human brain is an isometrically scaled-up primate brain.

    Kind Regards Marcel Korper Physiotherapist

    Date: Fri, 10 Apr 2015 07:57:36 +0000 To:

  2. 24:23
    “And we have to understand why some people don’t comply with our therapies”.


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