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But what do neurons and glia themselves do? What are their functions? Neurons are the basic information processing structures in the CNS. Everything occurring above the level of neurons qualifies as information processing too. But nothing below the level of neurons does. We shall ignore that this view, called the neuron doctrine , is somewhat controversial.
Synapses are connections between neurons through which "information" flows from one neuron to another. Hence, neurons process all of the "information" that flows within, to, or out of the CNS. All of it! All of the motor information through which we are able to move; all of the sensory information through which we are able to see, to hear, to smell, to taste, and to touch; and of course all of the cognitive information through which we are able to reason, to think, to dream, to plan, to remember, and to do everything else that we do with our minds.
Processing so many kinds of information requires many types of neurons; there may be as many as 10, types of them. Processing so much information requires a lot of neurons. How many?
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Well, "best estimates" indicate that there are around billion neurons in the brain alone! And as each of these neurons is connected to between 5, and , other neurons, the number of ways that information flows among neurons in the brain is so large, it is greater than the number stars in the entire universe! While we are considering numbers, it is worth noting that there are as many as 50 times more glia than neurons in our CNS!
Glia or glial cells are the cells that provide support to the neurons. In much the same way that the foundation, framework, walls, and roof of a house prove the structure through which run various electric, cable, and telephone lines, along with various pipes for water and waste, not only do glia provide the structural framework that allows networks of neurons to remain connected, they also attend to the brain's various house keeping functions such as removing debris after neuronal death.
Because our main interest lies in exploring how information processing occurs in the brain, we are going to ignore glia. But before we see how neurons process information and what that means , you need to know a few things about the structure of neurons. While there are as many as 10, specific types of neurons in the human brain, generally speaking, there are three kinds of neurons: motor neurons for conveying motor information , sensory neurons for conveying sensory information , and interneurons which convey information between different types of neurons.
The following image identifies how neurons come in various shapes and sizes. It is based on drawings made by Cajal. A "typical" neuron has four distinct parts or regions. The first part is the cell body or soma. This is not only the metabolic "control center" of the neuron, it is also its "manufacturing and recycling plant.
The second and third parts are processes — structures that extend away from the cell body. Generally speaking, the function of a process is to be a conduit through which signals flow to or away from the cell body. Incoming signals from other neurons are typically received through its dendrites. The outgoing signal to other neurons flows along its axon.
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A neuron may have many thousands of dendrites, but it will have only one axon. The fourth distinct part of a neuron lies at the end of the axon, the axon terminals. These are the structures that contain neurotransmitters.
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Let Your Heart Talk to Your Brain | HuffPost Life
To do this, it relies on a sophisticated network — neurons. It has been estimated that there are around 86 billion neurons in the brain; to reach this huge target, a developing fetus must create around , neurons per minute. Each neuron is connected to another 1, neurons, creating an incredibly complex network of communication. Neurons are considered the basic units of the nervous system. Neurons, sometimes called nerve cells, make up around 10 percent of the brain; the rest consists of glial cells and astrocytes that support and nourish neurons.
Soma cell body — this portion of the neuron receives information. It contains the cell's nucleus. Dendrites — these thin filaments carry information from other neurons to the soma. They are the "input" part of the cell.
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Axon — this long projection carries information from the soma and sends it off to other cells. This is the "output" part of the cell. It normally ends with a number of synapses connecting to the dendrites of other neurons. Axons vary in length a great deal. Some can be tiny, whereas others can be over 1 meter long.
The longest axon is called the dorsal root ganglion DRG , a cluster of nerve cell bodies that carries information from the skin to the brain.
Some of the axons in the DRG travel from the toes to the brain stem — up to 2 meters in a tall person. Efferent neurons — these take messages from the central nervous system brain and spinal cord and deliver them to cells in other parts of the body. Afferent neurons — take messages from the rest of the body and deliver them to the central nervous system CNS. If a neuron receives a large number of inputs from other neurons, these signals add up until they exceed a particular threshold. Once this threshold is exceeded, the neuron is triggered to send an impulse along its axon — this is called an action potential.
An action potential is created by the movement of electrically charged atoms ions across the axon's membrane.
Neurons at rest are more negatively charged than the fluid that surrounds them; this is referred to as the membrane potential. It is usually millivolts mV. When the cell body of a nerve receives enough signals to trigger it to fire, a portion of the axon nearest the cell body depolarizes — the membrane potential quickly rises and then falls in about 1,th of a second. This change triggers depolarization in the section of the axon next to it, and so on, until the rise and fall in charge has passed along the entire length of the axon.
After each section has fired, it enters a brief state of hyperpolarization, where its threshold is lowered, meaning it is less likely to be triggered again immediately. Ions move in and out of the axons through voltage-gated ion channels and pumps. Action potentials are described as "all or nothing" because they are always the same size.
The strength of a stimulus is transmitted using frequency. For instance, if a stimulus is weak, the neuron will fire less often, and for a strong signal, it will fire more frequently. Myelin is created by Schwann cells in the peripheral nervous system and oligodendrocytes in the CNS. There are small gaps in the myelin coating, called nodes of Ranvier. The action potential jumps from gap to gap, allowing the signal to move much quicker. Multiple sclerosis is caused by the slow breakdown of myelin. Neurons are connected to each other and tissues so that they can communicate messages; however, they do not physically touch — there is always a gap between cells, called a synapse.
Synapses can be electrical or chemical. In other words, the signal that is carried from the first nerve fiber presynaptic neuron to the next postsynaptic neuron is transmitted by an electrical signal or a chemical one. Once a signal reaches a synapse, it triggers the release of chemicals neurotransmitters into the gap between the two neurons; this gap is called the synaptic cleft. The neurotransmitter diffuses across the synaptic cleft and interacts with receptors on the membrane of the postsynaptic neuron, triggering a response.
Glutamergic — releases glutamine. They are often excitatory, meaning that they are more likely to trigger an action potential.