Posted by: Thixia | October 24, 2008

­Diagram ofBrain Mechanisms 2 of 7


Neuron Structure

­Your brain is made of approximately 100 billion nerve cells, called neurons.  Neurons have the amazing ability to gather and transmit electrochemical signals — they are something like the gates and wires in a computer.  Neurons share the same characteristics and have the same parts as other cells, but the electrochemical aspect lets them transmit signals over long distances (up to several feet or a few meters) and pass messages to each other. 


Neurons have three basic parts:


*       Cell body – This main part has all of the necessary components of the cell, such as the nucleus (contains DNA), endoplasmic reticulum and ribosomes (for building proteins) and mitochondria (for making energy).  If the cell body dies, the neuron dies. 

*       Axon – This long, cable-like projection of the cell carries the electrochemical message (nerve impulse or action potential) along the length of the cell. 

·       Depending upon the type of neuron, axons can be covered with a thin layer of myelin, like an insulated electrical wire.  Myelin is made of fat, and it helps to speed transmission of a nerve impulse down a long axon.  Myelinated neurons are typically found in the peripheral nerves (sensory and motor neurons), while non-myelinated neurons are found in the brain and spinal cord. 

*       Dendrites or nerve endings – These small, branch-like projections of the cell make connections to other cells and allow the neuron to talk with other cells or perceive the environment.  Dendrites can be located on one or both ends of the cell. 







Basic Neuron Types


Neurons come in many sizes.  For example, a single sensory neuron from your fingertip has an axon that extends the length of your arm, while neurons within the brain may extend only a few millimeters.  Neurons have different shapes depending on what they do.  Motor neurons that control muscle contractions have a cell body on one end, a long axon in the middle and dendrites on the other end; sensory neurons have dendrites on both ends, connected by a long axon with a cell body in the middle. 



Some types of neurons: motoneuron (a), sensory neuron (b), cortical pyramidal cell (c)







Neurons also vary with respect to their functions:


*       Sensory neurons carry signals from the outer parts of your body (periphery) into the central nervous system. 

*       Motor neurons (motoneurons) carry signals from the central nervous system to the outer parts (muscles, skin, glands) of your body. 

*       Receptors sense the environment (chemicals, light, sound, touch) and encode this information into electrochemical messages that are transmitted by sensory neurons. 

*       Interneurons connect various neurons within the brain and spinal cord. 


The simplest type of neural pathway is a monosynaptic (single connection) reflex pathway, like the knee-jerk reflex.  When the doctor taps the right spot on your knee with a rubber hammer, receptors send a signal into the spinal cord through a sensory neuron.  The sensory neuron passes the message to a motor neuron that controls your leg muscles.  Nerve impulses travel down the motor neuron and stimulate the appropriate leg muscle to contract.  The response is a muscular jerk that happens quickly and does not involve your brain.  Humans have lots of hard-wired reflexes like this, but as tasks become more complex, the pathway “circuitry” gets more complicated and the brain gets involved. 


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: