Glial cells provide support and protection for neurons in the embryonic and adult brain, mediated in part through the phagocytic activity of glia. Glial cells engulf apoptotic cells and pruned neurites from the developing nervous system, and also clear degenerating neuronal debris from the adult brain after neural trauma. Studies indicate that Drosophila melanogaster is an ideal model system to elucidate the mechanisms of engulfment by glia. The recent studies reviewed here show that many features of glial engulfment are conserved across species and argue that work in Drosophila will provide valuable cellular and molecular insight into glial engulfment activity in mammals.
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