Into brains of newborn mice, researchers implanted human “progenitor cells.” These mature into a type of brain cell called astrocytes (see below). They grew into human astrocytes, crowding out mouse astrocytes. The mouse brains became chimeras of human and mouse, with the workhorse mouse brain cells – neurons – nurtured by billions of human astrocytes.
Neuroscience is only beginning to discover what astrocytes do in brains. One job that is known is that they help neurons build connections (synapses) with other neurons. (Firing neurotransmitter molecules across synapses is how neurons communicate.) Human astrocytes are larger and more complex than those of other mammals. Humans’ unique brain capabilities may depend on this complexity.