Researchers at Lausanne University identified an unknown role for a type of brain cell which Einstein is thought to have had in more copious supply than the average male. The scientists said the cells provide energy for neural circuits and help build connections, leading to a more complex brain structure.
The team, lead by Andrea Volterra, investigated specialised cells known as glial cells, which, it was originally believed, helped hold neurons together but did little else. In recent years the cells have given up some of their secrets and are now thought to play a crucial role in brain activity. Researchers found that Glial cells ferry calcium to surrounding neurons and control messages around the brain.
In 1985 scientists at the University of California in Berkeley published anatomical studies of slivers of Einstein\’s brain after counting the different cells in the organ. They found the only difference between his brain and those of dead doctors was a greater ratio of glial cells to neurons.
"We know from animal studies that as you go from invertebrates to other animals and primates, as intelligence increases, so does the ratio of glial cells to neurons," said Professor Volterra, whose study appears in the journal Nature Neuroscience.
John Stein, a physiologist at Oxford University said: "Our understanding of the role of these glial cells in the brain has changed dramatically … but how they influence intelligence itself, if they do at all, is far from clear."