The 9 parts of a neuron (and their functions) - medical - 2023 (2023)

The 9 parts of a neuron (and their functions) - medical - 2023 (1)


  • What is a neuron?
  • How do they communicate with each other?
  • What is the morphology of neurons like?
  • 1. Body
  • 2. Dendrites
  • 3. Axon
  • 4. Core
  • 5. Myelin sheath
  • 6. Nissl substance
  • 7. Ranvier's nodules
  • 8. Synaptic buttons
  • 9. Axonal cone
  • Bibliographic references

The 9 parts of a neuron (and their functions) - medical - 2023 (2)

Neurons are a type of cells in our body that are incredibly specialized on a morphological level. and physiological in fulfilling an essential function: transmitting information throughout the body.

And this transmission of information, which occurs through electrical impulses that travel through neurons, is essential for all the processes that occur to us. Moving, seeing, hearing, tasting food, experiencing pain, speaking, listening and, ultimately, any action that involves communication with the outside environment or with ourselves.

And it is that neurons are also what allow us to think and reason. Therefore, everything we are and everything we can do on a physical level is thanks to neurons, which are the cells that make up the nervous system.

To fulfill these information transmission functions, neurons have different structures that are only found in this type of cell. In today's article we will review what are the main parts of a neuron, in addition to analyzing their operation and how they manage to transmit information through the body.

What is a neuron?

A neuron is a type of cell. Just like those that make up our muscles, liver, heart, skin, etc. But the key point is that each type of cell adapts both its morphology and structure depending on what function they have to perform.

Y neurons have a very different purpose than other cells in the body. And, therefore, they are also very different cells in terms of structure. The function of neurons is to transmit electrical impulses, which are the "information" that circulates through our body. No other cell is capable of making electrical impulses travel through it. Just neurons.

  • We recommend you read: "The 10 types of neurons and their functions"

The set of all neurons makes up the human nervous system, which is in charge of both sending and processing the signals received from the environment in order to subsequently generate responses according to them.

Because neurons are not only in the brain and spinal cord. They are absolutely all over the body, spreading forming a network that communicates all the organs and tissues of the body with the central nervous system.

How do they communicate with each other?

Neurons communicate with each other in a way similar to what happens with phone calls. And it is that this double function of perceiving and responding to signals is possible thanks to the fact that neurons are capable of carrying out a process called synapses, which is mediated by molecules known as neurotransmitters.

And we made the previous parallelism because the synapse would become the "telephone line" through which the message that we say circulates and the neurotransmitters would be something like the "words" that must reach the other side.

Neurons make up a highway through which information travels, which either is born in the organs and tissues and reaches the brain to generate a response or is born in the brain and reaches the organs and tissues to act. And this happens constantly, so the information must travel at an extremely high speed.

But, if neurons are individual cells, how do they get information to all regions of the body? Precisely thanks to this synapse. And we will see it better with an example. Imagine that we prick our finger with a pin. In a matter of thousandths, the brain has to get the information that we are hurting ourselves in order to remove the finger as soon as possible.

For this reason, sensory neurons in the skin that detect pressure changes (such as a pin prick) are activated. And when we talk about neurons, to activate means to become electrically charged, that is, to "turn on" an electrical impulse. But if only one neuron were to fire, the message of "we were jabbed" would never reach the brain.

And this is where neurotransmitters come in. Because when this first neuron is electrically activated, it begins to produce neurotransmitters, molecules that are detected by the next neuron in the neural network that we mentioned earlier. Once it has detected them, this second neuron is electrically charged and will produce neurotransmitters. And so over and over again following the network of millions of neurons until reaching the brain, where the signal will be interpreted and an electrical signal sent (now in reverse) to the finger forcing the muscles to move away from the pin.

  • We recommend reading: "How do our senses work?"

Y this transmission of information happens at an incredibly high speed, of about 360 km / h. Hence, we cannot even perceive that time passes between when we think something and perform a mechanical action. And this biological feat of neurons is possible thanks to the structures that make them up.

What is the morphology of neurons like?

Neurons are cells with a very characteristic morphology. They are basically divided into three regions: body, dendrites, and soma. But the truth is that there are other structures that allow these neurons to be the pillar of the nervous system and, therefore, of everything that happens in our body.

The 9 parts of a neuron (and their functions) - medical - 2023 (3)

1. Body

The body or soma of the neuron is the "command center", that is, where all the metabolic processes of the neuron take place. This body, which is the widest region with a more or less oval morphology, is where both the nucleus and the cytoplasm of the neuron are located.

Therefore, it is here that there is all the genetic material of the neuron and also where all the necessary molecules are synthesized both to allow their own survival and to ensure that electrical signals are transmitted properly.

2. Dendrites

The dendrites are extensions that are born from the body or soma and that form a kind of branches that cover the entire center of the neuron. Its function is to capture the neurotransmitters produced by the nearest neuron and send the chemical information to the body of the neuron to make it become electrically activated.

Therefore, the dendrites are the extensions of the neuron that capture information in the form of chemical signals and warn the body that the previous neuron in the network is trying to send an impulse, either from the sensory organs to the brain or vice versa.

3. Axon

The axon is a single extension that arises from the body or soma of the neuron, in the opposite part to the dendrites, which is responsible for, once the neurotransmitters have been received and the body has been electrically activated, conducting the electrical impulse until synaptic buttons, where neurotransmitters are released to inform the next neuron.

Therefore, the axon is a unique tube that arises from the body of the neuron and that, unlike dendrites, does not capture information, but is already directed to transmit it.

4. Core

Like any cell, neurons have a nucleus. This is found inside the soma and is a delimited structure from the rest of the cytoplasm inside which the DNA is protected, that is, all the genes of the neuron. Within it, the expression of genetic material is controlled and, therefore, everything that happens in the neuron is regulated.

5. Myelin sheath

Myelin is a substance composed of proteins and fats that surrounds the axon of neurons and that is essential to allow the electrical impulse to travel through it at the correct speed. If there are problems in the formation of this myelin sheath, as in the case of multiple sclerosis, the impulses and responses become increasingly slower.

6. Nissl substance

Nissl's substance, also known as Nissl's bodies, is the set of granules present in the cytoplasm of neurons, both in the body and in the dendrites, but not in the axon. Its main function is to be a "factory" of proteins, which, in the case of neurons, must be very special to allow the correct transmission of electrical impulses.

7. Ranvier's nodules

The myelin sheath of neurons is not continuous throughout the axon. In fact, myelin forms "packs" that are slightly separated from each other. And this separation, which is less than a micrometer in length, is what is called the nodule of Ranvier.

Therefore, the nodes of Ranvier are small regions of the axon that are not surrounded by myelin and that expose it to the extracellular space. They are essential for the transmission of the electrical impulse to happen properly since sodium and potassium electrolytes enter through them, vital for the electrical signal to travel correctly (and at a higher speed) through the axon.

8. Synaptic buttons

The synaptic buttons are the branches that the axon presents in its terminal part. Therefore, these synaptic buttons are similar to dendrites, although in this case they have the function of, once the electrical impulse has crossed the axon, release the neurotransmitters to the external environment, which will be captured by the dendrites of the next neuron of the highway".

9. Axonal cone

The axon cone is not a functionally distinguishable structure, but it is important since it is the region of the body of the neuron that narrows to give rise to the axon.

Bibliographic references

  • Megías, M., Molist, P., Pombal, M.A. (2018) "Cell types: Neuron". Atlas of Plant and Animal Histology.
  • Gautam, A. (2017) "Nerve Cells". Springer.
  • Knott, G., Molnár, Z. (2001) "Cells of the Nervous System". Encyclopedia of Life Sciences.
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