Neurons (more specifically neuronal communication) allow us to know what we know about the world; they allow us to sense, think and behave. In short, neurons allow us to function. In Part 1, we learned how neurons allow us to acquire, process and respond to information.
Neurons, their connections and their signaling mechanisms are responsible for learning and memory. Following the brain hypothesis, which stated that the brain is responsible for all behavior, the neuron hypothesis stated that the basic unit of brain structure and function is the nerve cell (neuron and glia cells). If we are to understand the brain and its complex activities it is important to understand neurons as a basic unit.
Neurons allow the body to communicate. In understanding the biological bases of behavior it is important to gain an understanding of neurons and neurotransmitters. The neuron is composed of three main parts: axon, cell body and dendrites.
What follows is a basic description of how neurons communicate (via electrical-chemical- electrical signaling).
The dendritic spine receives information from the synapse, where a neurotransmitter binds to a receptor on the dendrites’ membrane (axodendritic). The information then is sent to the neuron’s cell body where the information is processed. The axon,which carries impulses away from the cell body, carries information via electrical impulse to its end (terminal) where neurotransmitters (chemical substances) are released into the synapse,a tiny junction between neurons. They traverse to the other side and bind to receptors on another neuron’s dendrite. The electrical-chemical-electrical process is repeated.
Neurotransmitters are very important regarding neuronal communication. These chemical substances transmit messages from neuron to neuron at the synapse. They also transmit messages from neurons. Scientists have identified over 100 different types of neurotransmitters.
Proper functioning of neurotransmitters and neurotransmitter receptors are imperative for neuronal communication. The three different types of neurons — sensory, interneuron and motor — vary in structure and function.
In essence, you are your brain, and your brain is largely composed of neurons, so understanding these neurons is imperative to understanding yourself. Consider the plasticity of the brain and how forming and strengthening synapses shape who you are. As you engage in different activities, interact with people, see new places, recall, daydream, mentally rehearse, and engage in various other cognitive activities you strengthen existing synapses and also form new ones. This plasticity allows you to consistently modify who you are.
Photo credit: HENNING DALHOFF / SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY