In order to establish criteria for the identification of the neural and glial cells of the central nervous system, sections of the brains and spinal cords of mice, rabbits, guinea pigs, and rats; and portions of tumors of the human brain have been examined by electron microscopy.
Identification of neurons is made possible by the characteristic cytoplasmic picture, in which there is a distinct granular and less constant membranous ergastoplasmic pattern. In no other cell of the central nervous system is such a distinct granular component present in the ergastoplasm. The shape of the neuron in electron microscopic preparations is similar to that seen by light microscopy with several dendrites containing a similar cytoplasm arising from the perikaryon. Synapses are relatively common on the surface of the neuron and its dendrites.
Microglial cells are relatively small and dense with few processes, and are arranged as perineuronal and perivascular satellites for the most part. Occasionally phagocytized material is present in their cytoplasm. The oligodendroglial cells are identifiable by their position as perineuronal satellites and in the white matter as cells arranged in rows. They have a uniformly round to ovoid nucleus with a pale cytoplasm, which has a sparse, finely granular component and a few small mitochondria. The processes are few and relatively straight when cut in longitudinal section. The predominant cellular type in an oligodendroglioma was similar, with a pale cytoplasm. The astrocytes are variable in appearance. Their nuclei are moderately large, irregularly ovoid, and the cytoplasm adjacent to the nucleus is finely granular and scant. In the protoplasmic astrocytes the cytoplasm has a complicated infolded arrangement with reduplication of the plasma membrane, numerous processes extending radially from the cell and rebranching. To a certain extent this same folded plasma membrane was noted in the fibrous astrocytes. However, their more distant processes were narrowed, relatively straight, and filled with numerous dense fibrils. The processes of the astrocyte often surrounded axons, and other cellular processes, and surrounded some vessels, while attaching to a part of the wall of another vessel. Proliferating cells in experimentally produced gliosis and in astrocytic neoplasms were similar in structure.
The ependymal cells and the epithelium of the choroid plexus have a specialized surface with microvillous projections of the cytoplasm covered by the plasma membrane. Cilia in varying numbers are present in both epithelia.