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Neurons are the basic building blocks of the nervous system. These specialized cells are the
information-processing units of the brain responsible for receiving and transmitting
information. They transmit chemical and electrical signals throughout the body. Each part of
the neuron plays a role in communicating information throughout the body. Neurons come in
many different shapes and sizes. Some of the smallest neurons have cell bodies that are only
4 microns wide. Some of the biggest neurons have cell bodies that are 100 microns wide. (1
micron is equal to one thousandth of a millimeter).

Human body is made up of trillions of neurons. The brain is made up entirely of neurons and
glial cells (non-neuronal cells). The human brain has approximately 100 billion neurons.
Nearly 86 billion neurons work together within the nervous system to communicate with the
rest of the body. They are responsible for everything from consciousness and thought to pain
and hunger.

Types of neurons:-

Based on the roles, the neurons found in the human nervous system can be divided into three
classes: sensory neurons, motor neurons, and interneurons.

Sensory Neurons:-

Sensory neurons get information about what's going on inside and outside of the body and
bring that information into the CNS so it can be processed. Sensory neurons make up our five
primary senses (smell, taste, sight, touch, and hearing).

They are also called Unipolar Neurons because axon terminal and dendrites arise from the
same axis. They are also called Afferent Neurons.

Example For instance, if you picked up a hot coal, sensory neurons with endings in your
fingertips would convey the information to your CNS that it was really hot. Similarly if
somebody puts ice on your hand, the sensory neurons send the message from your hand to
your central nervous system telling you the ice is cold

If someone removes the top of your skull and poked your brain with their finger, would you
feel it? Nope! Yet, if that same person pricked the tip of your finger with a pin, it would hurt.

Motor Neurons:-

Motor neurons are neurons that control motor movements of the body. They carry signals
from the central nervous system to the outer parts of your body doing the opposite of sensory
neurons. Motor neurons get information from other neurons and convey commands to your
muscles, organs and glands.

They are also called Multipolar Neurons due to its one long axon and their short dendrites
extending from the cell body. They are involved in many processes. They are also called
Receptor Neurons.
Example For instance, if you picked up a hot coal, it motor neurons innervating the muscles
in your fingers would cause your hand to let go. Similarly, if you are driving, the motor
neurons would take the message from your central nervous system to your hand telling you to
turn the key.

Inter Neurons:-

Interneurons are the most numerous classes of neurons. Most interneurons are located in the
central nervous system and connect one neuron to another. Interneurons send information
between sensory neurons and motor neurons. They receive information from other neurons
(either sensory neurons or interneurons) and transmit information to other neurons (either
motor neurons or interneurons). Inter neurons act as highways or bridges connecting neurons
within the brain and spinal cord.

They are also called Bipolar Neurons because they have two extensions and are involved in
two processes i.e. receiving and transmitting information.

Example For instance, if you picked up a hot coal, the signal from the sensory neurons in
your fingertips would travel to interneurons in your spinal cord. Some of these interneurons
would signal to the motor neurons controlling your finger muscles (causing you to let go),
while others would transmit the signal up the spinal cord to neurons in the brain, where it
would be perceived as pain. It would be combinations of interneurons in your brain that
would allow you to draw the conclusion that things that looked like hot coals weren't good to
pick up, and, hopefully, retain that information for future reference.

Structure of a neuron:-
In addition to having all the normal components of cell (nucleus, organelles, etc.) neurons
also contain unique structures for receiving and sending the electrical signals that make
neuronal communication possible.

There are three basic parts of a neuron: the dendrites, the cell body, and the axon.


Dendrites are thick and short branch-like structures extending away from the cell body, and
their job is to receive messages from other neurons and allow those messages to travel
towards the cell body. Although some neurons do not have any dendrites, other types of
neurons have multiple dendrites. Dendrites can have small protrusions called dendritic
spines, which further increase surface area for possible connections with other neurons. The
main function of dendrite is to receive and process information. Some neurons have few
dendritic branches, while others are highly branched in order to receive a great deal of


An axon, or nerve fiber, is a long slender projection of a nerve cell, or neuron that conducts
electrical impulses away from the neuron's cell body or soma to the structures at opposite end
of the neuronaxon terminals, which can then pass the impulse to another neuron. The cell
body contains a specialized structure, the axon hillock, which serves as a junction between
the cell body and the axon. Axons are in effect the primary transmission lines of the nervous
system and as bundles they help make up nerves. Many axons are covered with a special
insulating substance called myelin, which helps them convey the nerve impulse rapidly.
Myelin is never found on dendrites. Some neurons have short axons, while others can be
quite long. The longest axon in the human body extends from the bottom of the spine to the
big toe and averages a length of approximately three feet.


Take information away from the Bring information towards the cell
cell body body
Have smooth surface Have rough surface(due to spikes)
Generally only 1 axon per cell Usually many dendrites per cell
No ribosomes Have ribosomes
Can have myelin No myelin insulation
Branch further from the cell body Branch near the cell body

Cell body:-

The cell body, also called the soma, is the spherical part of the neuron that contains the
nucleus and other cellular components. The cell body connects to the dendrites, which bring
information towards the neuron, and the axon, which sends information to other neurons.

Functions of a Neuron:-

The ability of a neuron to carry out its function of integration and propagation depends both
upon its structure and its ability to generate electrical and chemical signals. While different
neurons have different shapes, all neurons share the same signaling abilities.

Communication by neurons can be divided into four major steps.

a. First, a neuron receives information from the external environment or from other
neurons. For example, one neuron in the human brain may receive input from as many
as one hundred thousand other neurons.
b. Second, the neuron integrates, or processes the information from all of its inputs and
determines whether or not to send an output signal. This integration takes place both
in time (the duration of the input and the time between inputs) and in space (across the
surface of the neuron).
c. Third, the neuron propagates the signal along its length at high speed. The distance
may be up to several meters (in a giraffe or whale), with rates up to 100 meters (328
feet) per second.
d. Finally, the neuron converts this electrical signal to a chemical one and transmits it to
another neuron or to an effector such as a muscle or gland.

The messages carried by neurons are called nerve impulses. A nerve impulse is a wave of
electrical activity that passes from one end of a neuron to the other. Nerve impulses can travel
very quickly because they are electrical impulses.

Speed of Nerve Impulse:-

The speed of nerve impulses varies enormously in different types of neuron. The fastest nerve
impulse travel at about 250 mph, faster than a Formula 1 racing car. For the impulse to travel
quickly, the axon needs to be thick and well insulated. This uses a lot of space and energy,
however, and is found only in neurons that need to transfer information urgently. For
example, if you burn your fingers it is important that your brain gets the message to withdraw
your hand very quickly.

Coding of information through Nerve Impulses:-

Nerve impulses are a way of coding information, in a similar way to FM radio, allowing
information to be transmitted both quickly and accurately. Each impulse is the same size so it
is the frequency that carries information about the intensity of the signal.

For example, as you turn up the dimmer switch on your bedroom light, the size of the nerve
impulses from your eye stays the same but the rate at which they are generated increases.

Transmission of Nerve Impulse:-

It is caused by the reversal in charge between the inside and outside of a neuron. Neurons
have dendrites and axons that can extend far from the cell body and relay signals to and from
other cells.

Membrane Polarization:-

When the dendrite is not transmitting a signal it is said to be in its resting state. In this state,
the inside of the cell has a net negative charge, and the outside of the cell has a net positive
charge. The membrane is said to be polarized because negative and positive charges exist on
opposite sides. The polarized state of the membrane is actively maintained by the neuron
through the use of sodium-potassium pumps. These sodium-potassium pumps pump three
positively charged sodium ions out of the cell for every two positively charged potassium
ions it pumps into the cell. Each cycle of the pump increases the polarization a little more,
and in addition, potassium ions leak back across the membrane and out of the cell by
diffusion, which again creates more negative charge inside the cell and more positive charge
outside the cell.

Membrane Depolarization:-

When a neuron receives a signal, sodium channels in the membrane are opened and allow a
localized influx of positive sodium ions into the cell, which causes depolarization or a
reduction of the difference in charge across the membrane. The localized depolarization also
triggers nearby sodium channels to open up and depolarize the membrane nearby, which then
causes more sodium channels to open up further away and depolarize the membrane there,
and so a chain reaction is started.

Depolarization occurs in a wave across the membrane, starting at the dendrite that received
the signal, moving toward the cell body, across the cell body, and then away from the cell
down the axon. You can think of depolarization as being like people standing up to do the
wave in a football stadium. When the wave reaches people who are seated, it triggers them to
stand up, which then triggers the people next to them to stand up, and so on, continuing the
wave through the stands. And much like the people in the stands who sit back down, the
membrane repolarizes by closing the sodium channels and firing up the sodium-potassium
pumps to re-establish the difference in charge across the membrane, and the neuron is ready
to pass along another signal.


The point at which a nervous impulse passes from one neuron to another neuron is called a

Neurotransmitters, also known as chemical messengers, are endogenous chemicals that

enable neurotransmission. They transmit signals across a chemical synapse, such as a
neuromuscular junction, from one neuron (nerve cell) to another "target" neuron, muscle cell,
or gland cell.
Types of Neurotransmitters:

Studying the different types of neurotransmitters is necessary due to the fact that many drugs
affect their levels to deal with various psychological and behavioral disorders. These
neurotransmitters are divided into two major types: acetylcholine and biogenic amines.

Acetylcholine is the only neurotransmitter that helps the proper transmission of information
between motor neurons and voluntary muscle cells, via synapses. Alzheimers disease is
linked to the degeneration of the acetylcholine-producing cells.

Biogenic amines are a group of neurotransmitters which are comprised of dopamine,

norepinephrine and serotonin. Low levels of dopamine are associated with Parkinsons
disease, whereas decreased levels of serotonin and norepinephrine are associated with clinical

Other neurotransmitters include gamma amino butyric acid (GABA), glycine, endorphins and
substance P. The increase in the action of GABA gives a tranquilizing effect. Glycine serves
as the major inhibitory neurotransmitter both in the brain stem and in the spinal cord.
Endorphins modulate other neurotransmitters activities, and are called neuromodulators.
Lastly, Substance P is related to the experience of pain and is found in neural circuits.

Synaptic transmission:

Most neurons do not communicate directly with one another due to the space that separate
them, the synaptic cleft. A process called synaptic transmission is necessary for these neurons
to communicate. Chemical synapses enable the transmission of information (action
potentials) from one neuron to another. These synapses require neurotransmitters.

The process of synaptic transmission involves four steps:

I. Synthesis and Storage

Neurotransmitters are divided into two categories: small-molecule neurotransmitters and

neuropeptides. Small-molecule neurotransmitters are processed within the axon terminal. An
example of this is acetylcholine (Ach), which is particularly known as an excitatory
neurotransmitter. On the other hand, neuropeptides are larger than small-molecule
neurotransmitters and act as messengers. Because of their large size, they are made inside the
neuronal cell body.

Unlike the small-molecule neurotransmitters, the synthesis of neuropeptides requires more

effort and is likened to that of the synthesis of an ordinary secretory protein. The first step in
neuropeptide synthesis is DNA transcription, followed by messenger RNA or mRNA
construction and travel, and then translation.
After the synthesis of neurotransmitters, they are stored in vesicles located at the axon
terminal. While in storage, they await the arrival of an action potential, which is the
triggering factor for their release.

Neurotransmitter Release

The terminal of a neuron serves as the storage of vesicles containing neurotransmitter when at
rest. These vesicles are strategically located in active zones, places found at the pre-synaptic
membrane. Once an action potential arrives at the presynaptic neuron terminal, there would
be a considerable influx of calcium ions, causing the neurotransmitter to be released from the

Neurotransmitter Postsynaptic Receptors

Neurotransmitters released into the synaptic cleft go into an interaction at the postsynaptic
cell together with receptor proteins. In order to interact, these neurotransmitters must be
recognized by postsynaptic receptors first. As a result, membrane ionic channels open, and
another action potential is initiated. In turn, this leads to depolarization.

Inactivation of Neurotransmitters

Some neurotransmitters are sent back to the synaptic cleft once they have been identified by
the appropriate post-synaptic receptors. Special transporter proteins transfer these
neurotransmitters back to the pre-synaptic cells. Then, they undergo re-packaging and re-
storage in a vesicle until it is needed once again for chemical signaling. Other
neurotransmitters simply diffuse away.