Neuron

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Neuron
Blausen 0657 MultipolarNeuron.png
Anatomy of a multipolar neuron
Identifiers
MeSH D009474
NeuroLex ID sao1417703748
TA A14.0.00.002
TH H2.00.06.1.00002
FMA 54527
Anatomical terms of neuroanatomy
Schematic of an anatomically accurate single pyramidal neuron, the primary excitatory neuron of cerebral cortex, with a synaptic connection from an incoming axon onto a dendritic spine. Anatomy of a Neuron with Synapse.png
Schematic of an anatomically accurate single pyramidal neuron, the primary excitatory neuron of cerebral cortex, with a synaptic connection from an incoming axon onto a dendritic spine.

A neuron, neurone (old British spelling) or nerve cell, is an electrically excitable cell [1] that communicates with other cells via specialized connections called synapses. It is the main component of nervous tissue in all animals except sponges and placozoa. Plants and fungi do not have nerve cells.

Contents

Neurons are typically classified into three types based on their function. Sensory neurons respond to stimuli such as touch, sound, or light that affect the cells of the sensory organs, and they send signals to the spinal cord or brain. Motor neurons receive signals from the brain and spinal cord to control everything from muscle contractions to glandular output. Interneurons connect neurons to other neurons within the same region of the brain or spinal cord. A group of connected neurons is called a neural circuit.

A typical neuron consists of a cell body (soma), dendrites, and a single axon. The soma is usually compact. The axon and dendrites are filaments that extrude from it. Dendrites typically branch profusely and extend a few hundred micrometers from the soma. The axon leaves the soma at a swelling called the axon hillock, and travels for as far as 1 meter in humans or more in other species. It branches but usually maintains a constant diameter. At the farthest tip of the axon's branches are axon terminals, where the neuron can transmit a signal across the synapse to another cell. Neurons may lack dendrites or have no axon. The term neurite is used to describe either a dendrite or an axon, particularly when the cell is undifferentiated.

Most neurons receive signals via the dendrites and soma and send out signals down the axon. At the majority of synapses, signals cross from the axon of one neuron to a dendrite of another. However, synapses can connect an axon to another axon or a dendrite to another dendrite.

The signaling process is partly electrical and partly chemical. Neurons are electrically excitable, due to maintenance of voltage gradients across their membranes. If the voltage changes by a large enough amount over a short interval, the neuron generates an all-or-nothing electrochemical pulse called an action potential. This potential travels rapidly along the axon, and activates synaptic connections as it reaches them. Synaptic signals may be excitatory or inhibitory, increasing or reducing the net voltage that reaches the soma.

In most cases, neurons are generated by neural stem cells during brain development and childhood. Neurogenesis largely ceases during adulthood in most areas of the brain. However, strong evidence supports generation of substantial numbers of new neurons in the hippocampus and olfactory bulb. [2] [3]

Nervous system

Diagram of the human nervous system. The relationship between the brain, spinal cord, and rest of the nerves in the body is demonstrated. Nervous system diagram-en.svg
Diagram of the human nervous system. The relationship between the brain, spinal cord, and rest of the nerves in the body is demonstrated.

Neurons are the primary components of the nervous system, along with the glial cells that give them structural and metabolic support. The nervous system is made up of the central nervous system, which includes the brain and spinal cord, and the peripheral nervous system, which includes the autonomic and somatic nervous systems. In vertebrates, the majority of neurons belong to the central nervous system, but some reside in peripheral ganglia, and many sensory neurons are situated in sensory organs such as the retina and cochlea.

Axons may bundle into fascicles that make up the nerves in the peripheral nervous system (like strands of wire make up cables). Bundles of axons in the central nervous system are called tracts.

Anatomy and histology

Structure of a typical neuron
Neuron (peripheral nervous system)

Neurons are highly specialized for the processing and transmission of cellular signals. Given their diversity of functions performed in different parts of the nervous system, there is a wide variety in their shape, size, and electrochemical properties. For instance, the soma of a neuron can vary from 4 to 100 micrometers in diameter. [4]

Neuron cell body Neuron Cell Body.png
Neuron cell body

The accepted view of the neuron attributes dedicated functions to its various anatomical components; however, dendrites and axons often act in ways contrary to their so-called main function.

Diagram of a typical myelinated vertebrate motor neuron Complete neuron cell diagram en.svg
Diagram of a typical myelinated vertebrate motor neuron

Axons and dendrites in the central nervous system are typically only about one micrometer thick, while some in the peripheral nervous system are much thicker. The soma is usually about 10–25 micrometers in diameter and often is not much larger than the cell nucleus it contains. The longest axon of a human motor neuron can be over a meter long, reaching from the base of the spine to the toes.

Sensory neurons can have axons that run from the toes to the posterior column of the spinal cord, over 1.5 meters in adults. Giraffes have single axons several meters in length running along the entire length of their necks. Much of what is known about axonal function comes from studying the squid giant axon, an ideal experimental preparation because of its relatively immense size (0.5–1 millimeters thick, several centimeters long).

Fully differentiated neurons are permanently postmitotic [6] however, stem cells present in the adult brain may regenerate functional neurons throughout the life of an organism (see neurogenesis). Astrocytes are star-shaped glial cells. They have been observed to turn into neurons by virtue of their stem cell-like characteristic of pluripotency.

Membrane

Like all animal cells, the cell body of every neuron is enclosed by a plasma membrane, a bilayer of lipid molecules with many types of protein structures embedded in it. A lipid bilayer is a powerful electrical insulator, but in neurons, many of the protein structures embedded in the membrane are electrically active. These include ion channels that permit electrically charged ions to flow across the membrane and ion pumps that chemically transport ions from one side of the membrane to the other. Most ion channels are permeable only to specific types of ions. Some ion channels are voltage gated, meaning that they can be switched between open and closed states by altering the voltage difference across the membrane. Others are chemically gated, meaning that they can be switched between open and closed states by interactions with chemicals that diffuse through the extracellular fluid. The ion materials include sodium, potassium, chloride, and calcium. The interactions between ion channels and ion pumps produce a voltage difference across the membrane, typically a bit less than 1/10 of a volt at baseline. This voltage has two functions: first, it provides a power source for an assortment of voltage-dependent protein machinery that is embedded in the membrane; second, it provides a basis for electrical signal transmission between different parts of the membrane.

Histology and internal structure

Golgi-stained neurons in human hippocampal tissue Gyrus Dentatus 40x.jpg
Golgi-stained neurons in human hippocampal tissue
Actin filaments in a mouse cortical neuron in culture SUM 110913 Cort Neurons 2.5d in vitro 488 Phalloidin no perm 4 cmle-2.png
Actin filaments in a mouse cortical neuron in culture

Numerous microscopic clumps called Nissl bodies (or Nissl substance) are seen when nerve cell bodies are stained with a basophilic ("base-loving") dye. These structures consist of rough endoplasmic reticulum and associated ribosomal RNA. Named after German psychiatrist and neuropathologist Franz Nissl (1860–1919), they are involved in protein synthesis and their prominence can be explained by the fact that nerve cells are very metabolically active. Basophilic dyes such as aniline or (weakly) haematoxylin [7] highlight negatively charged components, and so bind to the phosphate backbone of the ribosomal RNA.

The cell body of a neuron is supported by a complex mesh of structural proteins called neurofilaments, which together with neurotubules (neuronal microtubules) are assembled into larger neurofibrils. [8] Some neurons also contain pigment granules, such as neuromelanin (a brownish-black pigment that is byproduct of synthesis of catecholamines), and lipofuscin (a yellowish-brown pigment), both of which accumulate with age. [9] [10] [11] Other structural proteins that are important for neuronal function are actin and the tubulin of microtubules. Class III β-tubulin is found almost exclusively in neurons. Actin is predominately found at the tips of axons and dendrites during neuronal development. There the actin dynamics can be modulated via an interplay with microtubule. [12]

There are different internal structural characteristics between axons and dendrites. Typical axons almost never contain ribosomes, except some in the initial segment. Dendrites contain granular endoplasmic reticulum or ribosomes, in diminishing amounts as the distance from the cell body increases.

Classification

Image of pyramidal neurons in mouse cerebral cortex expressing green fluorescent protein. The red staining indicates GABAergic interneurons. GFPneuron.png
Image of pyramidal neurons in mouse cerebral cortex expressing green fluorescent protein. The red staining indicates GABAergic interneurons.
SMI32-stained pyramidal neurons in cerebral cortex Smi32neuron.jpg
SMI32-stained pyramidal neurons in cerebral cortex

Neurons vary in shape and size and can be classified by their morphology and function. [14] The anatomist Camillo Golgi grouped neurons into two types; type I with long axons used to move signals over long distances and type II with short axons, which can often be confused with dendrites. Type I cells can be further classified by the location of the soma. The basic morphology of type I neurons, represented by spinal motor neurons, consists of a cell body called the soma and a long thin axon covered by a myelin sheath. The dendritic tree wraps around the cell body and receives signals from other neurons. The end of the axon has branching terminals (axon terminal) that release neurotransmitters into a gap called the synaptic cleft between the terminals and the dendrites of the next neuron.

Structural classification

Polarity

Different kinds of neurons:
1 Unipolar neuron
2 Bipolar neuron
3 Multipolar neuron
4 Pseudounipolar neuron Neurons uni bi multi pseudouni.svg
Different kinds of neurons:
1 Unipolar neuron
2 Bipolar neuron
3 Multipolar neuron
4 Pseudounipolar neuron

Most neurons can be anatomically characterized as:

  • Unipolar: single process
  • Bipolar: 1 axon and 1 dendrite
  • Multipolar: 1 axon and 2 or more dendrites
    • Golgi I: neurons with projecting axonal processes; examples are pyramidal cells, Purkinje cells, and anterior horn cells
    • Golgi II: neurons whose axonal process projects locally; the best example is the granule cell
  • Anaxonic: where the axon cannot be distinguished from the dendrite(s)
  • Pseudounipolar: 1 process which then serves as both an axon and a dendrite

Other

Some unique neuronal types can be identified according to their location in the nervous system and distinct shape. Some examples are:

Functional classification

Direction

  • Afferent neurons convey information from tissues and organs into the central nervous system and are also called sensory neurons.
  • Efferent neurons (motor neurons) transmit signals from the central nervous system to the effector cells.
  • Interneurons connect neurons within specific regions of the central nervous system.

Afferent and efferent also refer generally to neurons that, respectively, bring information to or send information from the brain.

Action on other neurons

A neuron affects other neurons by releasing a neurotransmitter that binds to chemical receptors. The effect upon the postsynaptic neuron is determined by the type of receptor that is activated, not by the presynaptic neuron or by the neurotransmitter. A neurotransmitter can be thought of as a key, and a receptor as a lock: the same neurotransmitter can activate multiple types of receptors. Receptors can be classified broadly as excitatory (causing an increase in firing rate), inhibitory (causing a decrease in firing rate), or modulatory (causing long-lasting effects not directly related to firing rate).

The two most common (90%+) neurotransmitters in the brain, glutamate and GABA, have largely consistent actions. Glutamate acts on several types of receptors, and has effects that are excitatory at ionotropic receptors and a modulatory effect at metabotropic receptors. Similarly, GABA acts on several types of receptors, but all of them have inhibitory effects (in adult animals, at least). Because of this consistency, it is common for neuroscientists to refer to cells that release glutamate as "excitatory neurons", and cells that release GABA as "inhibitory neurons". Some other types of neurons have consistent effects, for example, "excitatory" motor neurons in the spinal cord that release acetylcholine, and "inhibitory" spinal neurons that release glycine.

The distinction between excitatory and inhibitory neurotransmitters is not absolute. Rather, it depends on the class of chemical receptors present on the postsynaptic neuron. In principle, a single neuron, releasing a single neurotransmitter, can have excitatory effects on some targets, inhibitory effects on others, and modulatory effects on others still. For example, photoreceptor cells in the retina constantly release the neurotransmitter glutamate in the absence of light. So-called OFF bipolar cells are, like most neurons, excited by the released glutamate. However, neighboring target neurons called ON bipolar cells are instead inhibited by glutamate, because they lack typical ionotropic glutamate receptors and instead express a class of inhibitory metabotropic glutamate receptors. [15] When light is present, the photoreceptors cease releasing glutamate, which relieves the ON bipolar cells from inhibition, activating them; this simultaneously removes the excitation from the OFF bipolar cells, silencing them.

It is possible to identify the type of inhibitory effect a presynaptic neuron will have on a postsynaptic neuron, based on the proteins the presynaptic neuron expresses. Parvalbumin-expressing neurons typically dampen the output signal of the postsynaptic neuron in the visual cortex, whereas somatostatin-expressing neurons typically block dendritic inputs to the postsynaptic neuron. [16]

Discharge patterns

Neurons have intrinsic electroresponsive properties like intrinsic transmembrane voltage oscillatory patterns. [17] So neurons can be classified according to their electrophysiological characteristics:

  • Tonic or regular spiking. Some neurons are typically constantly (tonically) active, typically firing at a constant frequency. Example: interneurons in neurostriatum.
  • Phasic or bursting. Neurons that fire in bursts are called phasic.
  • Fast spiking. Some neurons are notable for their high firing rates, for example some types of cortical inhibitory interneurons, cells in globus pallidus, retinal ganglion cells. [18] [19]

Neurotransmitter

Synaptic vesicles containing neurotransmitters Neurotransmitters.jpg
Synaptic vesicles containing neurotransmitters
  • Cholinergic neurons—acetylcholine. Acetylcholine is released from presynaptic neurons into the synaptic cleft. It acts as a ligand for both ligand-gated ion channels and metabotropic (GPCRs) muscarinic receptors. Nicotinic receptors are pentameric ligand-gated ion channels composed of alpha and beta subunits that bind nicotine. Ligand binding opens the channel causing influx of Na+ depolarization and increases the probability of presynaptic neurotransmitter release. Acetylcholine is synthesized from choline and acetyl coenzyme A.
  • GABAergic neurons—gamma aminobutyric acid. GABA is one of two neuroinhibitors in the central nervous system (CNS), along with glycine. GABA has a homologous function to ACh, gating anion channels that allow Cl ions to enter the post synaptic neuron. Cl causes hyperpolarization within the neuron, decreasing the probability of an action potential firing as the voltage becomes more negative (for an action potential to fire, a positive voltage threshold must be reached). GABA is synthesized from glutamate neurotransmitters by the enzyme glutamate decarboxylase.
  • Glutamatergic neurons—glutamate. Glutamate is one of two primary excitatory amino acid neurotransmitters, along with aspartate. Glutamate receptors are one of four categories, three of which are ligand-gated ion channels and one of which is a G-protein coupled receptor (often referred to as GPCR).
  1. AMPA and Kainate receptors function as cation channels permeable to Na+ cation channels mediating fast excitatory synaptic transmission.
  2. NMDA receptors are another cation channel that is more permeable to Ca2+. The function of NMDA receptors depend on glycine receptor binding as a co-agonist within the channel pore. NMDA receptors do not function without both ligands present.
  3. Metabotropic receptors, GPCRs modulate synaptic transmission and postsynaptic excitability.
Glutamate can cause excitotoxicity when blood flow to the brain is interrupted, resulting in brain damage. When blood flow is suppressed, glutamate is released from presynaptic neurons, causing greater NMDA and AMPA receptor activation than normal outside of stress conditions, leading to elevated Ca2+ and Na+ entering the post synaptic neuron and cell damage. Glutamate is synthesized from the amino acid glutamine by the enzyme glutamate synthase.

Connectivity

A signal propagating down an axon to the cell body and dendrites of the next cell Chemical synapse schema cropped.jpg
A signal propagating down an axon to the cell body and dendrites of the next cell
Chemical synapse Neuro Muscular Junction.png
Chemical synapse

Neurons communicate with each another via synapses, where either the axon terminal of one cell contacts another neuron's dendrite, soma or, less commonly, axon. Neurons such as Purkinje cells in the cerebellum can have over 1000 dendritic branches, making connections with tens of thousands of other cells; other neurons, such as the magnocellular neurons of the supraoptic nucleus, have only one or two dendrites, each of which receives thousands of synapses.

Synapses can be excitatory or inhibitory, either increasing or decreasing activity in the target neuron, respectively. Some neurons also communicate via electrical synapses, which are direct, electrically conductive junctions between cells. [21]

When an action potential reaches the axon terminal, it opens voltage-gated calcium channels, allowing calcium ions to enter the terminal. Calcium causes synaptic vesicles filled with neurotransmitter molecules to fuse with the membrane, releasing their contents into the synaptic cleft. The neurotransmitters diffuse across the synaptic cleft and activate receptors on the postsynaptic neuron. High cytosolic calcium in the axon terminal triggers mitochondrial calcium uptake, which, in turn, activates mitochondrial energy metabolism to produce ATP to support continuous neurotransmission. [22]

An autapse is a synapse in which a neuron's axon connects to its own dendrites.

The human brain has some 8.6 x 1010 (eighty six billion) neurons. [23] Each neuron has on average 7,000 synaptic connections to other neurons. It has been estimated that the brain of a three-year-old child has about 1015 synapses (1 quadrillion). This number declines with age, stabilizing by adulthood. Estimates vary for an adult, ranging from 1014 to 5 x 1014 synapses (100 to 500 trillion). [24]

An annotated diagram of the stages of an action potential propagating down an axon including the role of ion concentration and pump and channel proteins. Axon Propagation.svg
An annotated diagram of the stages of an action potential propagating down an axon including the role of ion concentration and pump and channel proteins.

Mechanisms for propagating action potentials

In 1937 John Zachary Young suggested that the squid giant axon could be used to study neuronal electrical properties. [25] It is larger than but similar to human neurons, making it easier to study. By inserting electrodes into the squid giant axons, accurate measurements were made of the membrane potential.

The cell membrane of the axon and soma contain voltage-gated ion channels that allow the neuron to generate and propagate an electrical signal (an action potential). Some neurons also generate subthreshold membrane potential oscillations. These signals are generated and propagated by charge-carrying ions including sodium (Na+), potassium (K+), chloride (Cl), and calcium (Ca2+).

Several stimuli can activate a neuron leading to electrical activity, including pressure, stretch, chemical transmitters, and changes of the electric potential across the cell membrane. [26] Stimuli cause specific ion-channels within the cell membrane to open, leading to a flow of ions through the cell membrane, changing the membrane potential. Neurons must maintain the specific electrical properties that define their neuron type. [27]

Thin neurons and axons require less metabolic expense to produce and carry action potentials, but thicker axons convey impulses more rapidly. To minimize metabolic expense while maintaining rapid conduction, many neurons have insulating sheaths of myelin around their axons. The sheaths are formed by glial cells: oligodendrocytes in the central nervous system and Schwann cells in the peripheral nervous system. The sheath enables action potentials to travel faster than in unmyelinated axons of the same diameter, whilst using less energy. The myelin sheath in peripheral nerves normally runs along the axon in sections about 1 mm long, punctuated by unsheathed nodes of Ranvier, which contain a high density of voltage-gated ion channels. Multiple sclerosis is a neurological disorder that results from demyelination of axons in the central nervous system.

Some neurons do not generate action potentials, but instead generate a graded electrical signal, which in turn causes graded neurotransmitter release. Such non-spiking neurons tend to be sensory neurons or interneurons, because they cannot carry signals long distances.

Neural coding

Neural coding is concerned with how sensory and other information is represented in the brain by neurons. The main goal of studying neural coding is to characterize the relationship between the stimulus and the individual or ensemble neuronal responses, and the relationships among the electrical activities of the neurons within the ensemble. [28] It is thought that neurons can encode both digital and analog information. [29]

All-or-none principle

As long as the stimulus reaches the threshold, the full response would be given. Larger stimulus does not result in a larger response, vice versa. All-or-none law en.svg
As long as the stimulus reaches the threshold, the full response would be given. Larger stimulus does not result in a larger response, vice versa.

The conduction of nerve impulses is an example of an all-or-none response. In other words, if a neuron responds at all, then it must respond completely. Greater intensity of stimulation, like brighter image/louder sound, does not produce a stronger signal, but can increase firing frequency. [30] :31 Receptors respond in different ways to stimuli. Slowly adapting or tonic receptors respond to steady stimulus and produce a steady rate of firing. Tonic receptors most often respond to increased intensity of stimulus by increasing their firing frequency, usually as a power function of stimulus plotted against impulses per second. This can be likened to an intrinsic property of light where greater intensity of a specific frequency (color) requires more photons, as the photons can't become "stronger" for a specific frequency.

Other receptor types include quickly adapting or phasic receptors, where firing decreases or stops with steady stimulus; examples include skin which, when touched causes neurons to fire, but if the object maintains even pressure, the neurons stop firing. The neurons of the skin and muscles that are responsive to pressure and vibration have filtering accessory structures that aid their function.

The pacinian corpuscle is one such structure. It has concentric layers like an onion, which form around the axon terminal. When pressure is applied and the corpuscle is deformed, mechanical stimulus is transferred to the axon, which fires. If the pressure is steady, stimulus ends; thus, typically these neurons respond with a transient depolarization during the initial deformation and again when the pressure is removed, which causes the corpuscle to change shape again. Other types of adaptation are important in extending the function of a number of other neurons. [31]

History

Drawing by Camillo Golgi of a hippocampus stained using the silver nitrate method Golgi Hippocampus.jpg
Drawing by Camillo Golgi of a hippocampus stained using the silver nitrate method
Drawing of a Purkinje cell in the cerebellar cortex done by Santiago Ramon y Cajal, demonstrating the ability of Golgi's staining method to reveal fine detail Purkinje cell by Cajal.png
Drawing of a Purkinje cell in the cerebellar cortex done by Santiago Ramón y Cajal, demonstrating the ability of Golgi's staining method to reveal fine detail

The neuron's place as the primary functional unit of the nervous system was first recognized in the late 19th century through the work of the Spanish anatomist Santiago Ramón y Cajal. [32]

To make the structure of individual neurons visible, Ramón y Cajal improved a silver staining process that had been developed by Camillo Golgi. [32] The improved process involves a technique called "double impregnation" and is still in use.

In 1888 Ramón y Cajal published a paper about the bird cerebellum. In this paper, he stated that he could not find evidence for anastomosis between axons and dendrites and called each nervous element "an absolutely autonomous canton." [32] [33] This became known as the neuron doctrine, one of the central tenets of modern neuroscience. [32]

In 1891 German anatomist Heinrich Wilhelm Waldeyer wrote a highly influential review about the neuron doctrine in which he introduced the term neuron to describe the anatomical and physiological unit of the nervous system. [34] [35]

The silver impregnation stains are a useful method for neuroanatomical investigations because, for reasons unknown, it stains only a small percentage of cells in a tissue, exposing the complete micro structure of individual neurons without much overlap from other cells. [36]

Neuron doctrine

Drawing of neurons in the pigeon cerebellum, by Spanish neuroscientist Santiago Ramon y Cajal in 1899. (A) denotes Purkinje cells and (B) denotes granule cells, both of which are multipolar. PurkinjeCell.jpg
Drawing of neurons in the pigeon cerebellum, by Spanish neuroscientist Santiago Ramón y Cajal in 1899. (A) denotes Purkinje cells and (B) denotes granule cells, both of which are multipolar.

The neuron doctrine is the now fundamental idea that neurons are the basic structural and functional units of the nervous system. The theory was put forward by Santiago Ramón y Cajal in the late 19th century. It held that neurons are discrete cells (not connected in a meshwork), acting as metabolically distinct units.

Later discoveries yielded refinements to the doctrine. For example, glial cells, which are not considered neurons, play an essential role in information processing. [37] Also, electrical synapses are more common than previously thought, [38] comprising direct, cytoplasmic connections between neurons. In fact, neurons can form even tighter couplings: the squid giant axon arises from the fusion of multiple axons. [39]

Ramón y Cajal also postulated the Law of Dynamic Polarization, which states that a neuron receives signals at its dendrites and cell body and transmits them, as action potentials, along the axon in one direction: away from the cell body. [40] The Law of Dynamic Polarization has important exceptions; dendrites can serve as synaptic output sites of neurons [41] and axons can receive synaptic inputs. [42]

Compartmental Model of Neurons

Although neurons are often described of as "fundamental units" of the brain, they perform internal computations. Neurons integrate input within dendrites, and this complexity is lost in models that assume neurons to be a fundamental unit. Dendritic branches can be modeled as spatial compartments, whose activity is related due to passive membrane properties, but may also be different depending on input from synapses. Compartmental modelling of dendrites is especially helpful for understanding the behavior of neurons that are too small to record with electrodes, as is the case for Drosophila melanogaster. [43]

Neurons in the brain

The number of neurons in the brain varies dramatically from species to species. [44] In a human, there are an estimated 10–20 billion neurons in the cerebral cortex and 55–70 billion neurons in the cerebellum. [45] By contrast, the nematode worm Caenorhabditis elegans has just 302 neurons, making it an ideal model organism as scientists have been able to map all of its neurons. The fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster , a common subject in biological experiments, has around 100,000 neurons and exhibits many complex behaviors. Many properties of neurons, from the type of neurotransmitters used to ion channel composition, are maintained across species, allowing scientists to study processes occurring in more complex organisms in much simpler experimental systems.

Neurological disorders

Charcot–Marie–Tooth disease (CMT) is a heterogeneous inherited disorder of nerves (neuropathy) that is characterized by loss of muscle tissue and touch sensation, predominantly in the feet and legs extending to the hands and arms in advanced stages. Presently incurable, this disease is one of the most common inherited neurological disorders, with 36 in 100,000 affected. [46]

Alzheimer's disease (AD), also known simply as Alzheimer's, is a neurodegenerative disease characterized by progressive cognitive deterioration, together with declining activities of daily living and neuropsychiatric symptoms or behavioral changes. [47] The most striking early symptom is loss of short-term memory (amnesia), which usually manifests as minor forgetfulness that becomes steadily more pronounced with illness progression, with relative preservation of older memories. As the disorder progresses, cognitive (intellectual) impairment extends to the domains of language (aphasia), skilled movements (apraxia), and recognition (agnosia), and functions such as decision-making and planning become impaired. [48] [49]

Parkinson's disease (PD), also known as Parkinson disease, is a degenerative disorder of the central nervous system that often impairs motor skills and speech. [50] Parkinson's disease belongs to a group of conditions called movement disorders. [51] It is characterized by muscle rigidity, tremor, a slowing of physical movement (bradykinesia), and in extreme cases, a loss of physical movement (akinesia). The primary symptoms are the results of decreased stimulation of the motor cortex by the basal ganglia, normally caused by the insufficient formation and action of dopamine, which is produced in the dopaminergic neurons of the brain. Secondary symptoms may include high level cognitive dysfunction and subtle language problems. PD is both chronic and progressive.

Myasthenia gravis is a neuromuscular disease leading to fluctuating muscle weakness and fatigability during simple activities. Weakness is typically caused by circulating antibodies that block acetylcholine receptors at the post-synaptic neuromuscular junction, inhibiting the stimulative effect of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. Myasthenia is treated with immunosuppressants, cholinesterase inhibitors and, in selected cases, thymectomy.

Demyelination

Guillain-Barre syndrome - demyelination Guillain-barre syndrome - Nerve Damage.gif
Guillain–Barré syndrome – demyelination

Demyelination is the act of demyelinating, or the loss of the myelin sheath insulating the nerves. When myelin degrades, conduction of signals along the nerve can be impaired or lost, and the nerve eventually withers. This leads to certain neurodegenerative disorders like multiple sclerosis and chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy.

Axonal degeneration

Although most injury responses include a calcium influx signaling to promote resealing of severed parts, axonal injuries initially lead to acute axonal degeneration, which is rapid separation of the proximal and distal ends within 30 minutes of injury. Degeneration follows with swelling of the axolemma, and eventually leads to bead like formation. Granular disintegration of the axonal cytoskeleton and inner organelles occurs after axolemma degradation. Early changes include accumulation of mitochondria in the paranodal regions at the site of injury. Endoplasmic reticulum degrades and mitochondria swell up and eventually disintegrate. The disintegration is dependent on ubiquitin and calpain proteases (caused by influx of calcium ion), suggesting that axonal degeneration is an active process that produces complete fragmentation. The process takes about roughly 24 hrs in the PNS and longer in the CNS. The signaling pathways leading to axolemma degeneration are unknown.

Neurogenesis

Neurons are born through the process of neurogenesis, in which neural stem cells divide to produce differentiated neurons. Once fully differentiated neurons are formed, they are no longer capable of undergoing mitosis. Neurogenesis primarily occurs in the embryo of most organisms.

Neurogenesis can occur in the adult vertebrate brain, a finding that led to controversy in 1999. [52] Later studies of the age of human neurons suggest that this process occurs only for a minority of cells, and a vast majority of neurons composing the neocortex forms before birth and persists without replacement. [3] The extent to which adult neurogenesis exists in humans, and its contribution to cognition are controversial, with conflicting reports published in 2018. [53]

The body contains a variety of stem cell types that have the capacity to differentiate into neurons. Researchers found a way to transform human skin cells into nerve cells using transdifferentiation, in which "cells are forced to adopt new identities". [54]

During neurogenesis in the mammalian brain, progenitor and stem cells progress from proliferative divisions to differentiative divisions. This progression leads to the neurons and glia that populate cortical layers. Epigenetic modifications play a key role in regulating gene expression in differentiating neural stem cells, and are critical for cell fate determination in the developing and adult mammalian brain. Epigenetic modifications include DNA cytosine methylation to form 5-methylcytosine and 5-methylcytosine demethylation. [55] These modifications are critical for cell fate determination in the developing and adult mammalian brain. DNA cytosine methylation is catalyzed by DNA methyltransferases (DNMTs). Methylcytosine demethylation is catalyzed in several stages by TET enzymes that carry out oxidative reactions (e.g. 5-methylcytosine to 5-hydroxymethylcytosine) and enzymes of the DNA base excision repair (BER) pathway. [55]

At different stages of mammalian nervous system development two DNA repair processes are employed in the repair of DNA double-strand breaks. These pathways are homologous recombinational repair used in proliferating neural precursor cells, and non-homologous end joining used mainly at later developmental stages [56]

Nerve regeneration

Peripheral axons can regrow if they are severed, [57] but one neuron cannot be functionally replaced by one of another type (Llinás' law). [17]

See also

Related Research Articles

Dendrite Small projection on a neuron that receive signals

Dendrites, also dendrons, are branched protoplasmic extensions of a nerve cell that propagate the electrochemical stimulation received from other neural cells to the cell body, or soma, of the neuron from which the dendrites project. Electrical stimulation is transmitted onto dendrites by upstream neurons via synapses which are located at various points throughout the dendritic tree. Dendrites play a critical role in integrating these synaptic inputs and in determining the extent to which action potentials are produced by the neuron. Dendritic arborization, also known as dendritic branching, is a multi-step biological process by which neurons form new dendritic trees and branches to create new synapses. The morphology of dendrites such as branch density and grouping patterns are highly correlated to the function of the neuron. Malformation of dendrites is also tightly correlated to impaired nervous system function. Some disorders that are associated with the malformation of dendrites are autism, depression, schizophrenia, Down syndrome and anxiety.

Neurotransmitter endogenous chemicals that transmit signals across a synapse from one neuron to another

Neurotransmitters are endogenous chemicals that enable neurotransmission. It is a type of chemical messenger which transmits signals across a chemical synapse, such as a neuromuscular junction, from one neuron to another "target" neuron, muscle cell, or gland cell. Neurotransmitters are released from synaptic vesicles in synapses into the synaptic cleft, where they are received by neurotransmitter receptors on the target cells. Many neurotransmitters are synthesized from simple and plentiful precursors such as amino acids, which are readily available from the diet and only require a small number of biosynthetic steps for conversion. Neurotransmitters play a major role in shaping everyday life and functions. Their exact numbers are unknown, but more than 200 unique chemical messengers have been identified.

Nervous system Highly complex part of an animal that coordinates actions and sensory information by transmitting signals between different parts of the body

The nervous system is a highly complex part of an animal that coordinates its actions and sensory information by transmitting signals to and from different parts of its body. The nervous system detects environmental changes that impact the body, then works in tandem with the endocrine system to respond to such events. Nervous tissue first arose in wormlike organisms about 550 to 600 million years ago. In vertebrates it consists of two main parts, the central nervous system (CNS) and the peripheral nervous system (PNS). The CNS consists of the brain and spinal cord. The PNS consists mainly of nerves, which are enclosed bundles of the long fibers or axons, that connect the CNS to every other part of the body. Nerves that transmit signals from the brain are called motor or efferent nerves, while those nerves that transmit information from the body to the CNS are called sensory or afferent. Spinal nerves serve both functions and are called mixed nerves. The PNS is divided into three separate subsystems, the somatic, autonomic, and enteric nervous systems. Somatic nerves mediate voluntary movement. The autonomic nervous system is further subdivided into the sympathetic and the parasympathetic nervous systems. The sympathetic nervous system is activated in cases of emergencies to mobilize energy, while the parasympathetic nervous system is activated when organisms are in a relaxed state. The enteric nervous system functions to control the gastrointestinal system. Both autonomic and enteric nervous systems function involuntarily. Nerves that exit from the cranium are called cranial nerves while those exiting from the spinal cord are called spinal nerves.

Chemical synapse

Chemical synapses are biological junctions through which neurons' signals can be sent to each other and to non-neuronal cells such as those in muscles or glands. Chemical synapses allow neurons to form circuits within the central nervous system. They are crucial to the biological computations that underlie perception and thought. They allow the nervous system to connect to and control other systems of the body.

Neurotransmitter receptor type of protein

A neurotransmitter receptor is a membrane receptor protein that is activated by a neurotransmitter. Chemicals on the outside of the cell, such as a neurotransmitter, can bump into the cell's membrane and along the membrane we can find receptors. If a neurotransmitter bumps into its corresponding receptor, they will bind and can trigger other events to occur inside the cell. Therefore, a membrane receptor is part of the molecular machinery that allows cells to communicate with one another. A neurotransmitter receptor is a class of receptors that specifically binds with neurotransmitters as opposed to other molecules.

An inhibitory postsynaptic potential (IPSP) is a kind of synaptic potential that makes a postsynaptic neuron less likely to generate an action potential. IPSP were first investigated in motorneurons by David P. C. Lloyd, Jhon Eccles and Rodolfo Llinás in the 1950s and 1960s. The opposite of an inhibitory postsynaptic potential is an excitatory postsynaptic potential (EPSP), which is a synaptic potential that makes a postsynaptic neuron more likely to generate an action potential. IPSPs can take place at all chemical synapses, which use the secretion of neurotransmitters to create cell to cell signalling. Inhibitory presynaptic neurons release neurotransmitters that then bind to the postsynaptic receptors; this induces a change in the permeability of the postsynaptic neuronal membrane to particular ions. An electric current that changes the postsynaptic membrane potential to create a more negative postsynaptic potential is generated, i.e. the postsynaptic membrane potential becomes more negative than the resting membrane potential, and this is called hyperpolarisation. To generate an action potential, the postsynaptic membrane must depolarize—the membrane potential must reach a voltage threshold more positive than the resting membrane potential. Therefore, hyperpolarisation of the postsynaptic membrane makes it less likely for depolarisation to sufficiently occur to generate an action potential in the postsynaptic neurone.

Excitatory postsynaptic potential process causing temporary increase in postsynaptic potential

In neuroscience, an excitatory postsynaptic potential (EPSP) is a postsynaptic potential that makes the postsynaptic neuron more likely to fire an action potential. This temporary depolarization of postsynaptic membrane potential, caused by the flow of positively charged ions into the postsynaptic cell, is a result of opening ligand-gated ion channels. These are the opposite of inhibitory postsynaptic potentials (IPSPs), which usually result from the flow of negative ions into the cell or positive ions out of the cell. EPSPs can also result from a decrease in outgoing positive charges, while IPSPs are sometimes caused by an increase in positive charge outflow. The flow of ions that causes an EPSP is an excitatory postsynaptic current (EPSC).

Excitatory synapse A synapse in which an action potential in the presynaptic cell increases the probability of an action potential occurring in the postsynaptic cell.

An excitatory synapse is a synapse in which an action potential in a presynaptic neuron increases the probability of an action potential occurring in a postsynaptic cell. Neurons form networks through which nerve impulses travel, each neuron often making numerous connections with other cells. These electrical signals may be excitatory or inhibitory, and, if the total of excitatory influences exceeds that of the inhibitory influences, the neuron will generate a new action potential at its axon hillock, thus transmitting the information to yet another cell.

Stimulus (physiology) in physiology, a detectable change in the internal or external environment

In physiology, a stimulus is a detectable change in the physical or chemical structure of an organism's internal or external environment. The ability of an organism or organ to respond to external stimuli is called sensitivity. When a stimulus is applied to a sensory receptor, it normally elicits or influences a reflex via stimulus transduction. These sensory receptors can receive information from outside the body, as in touch receptors found in the skin or light receptors in the eye, as well as from inside the body, as in chemoreceptors and mechanoreceptors. An internal stimulus is often the first component of a homeostatic control system. External stimuli are capable of producing systemic responses throughout the body, as in the fight-or-flight response. In order for a stimulus to be detected with high probability, its level must exceed the absolute threshold; if a signal does reach threshold, the information is transmitted to the central nervous system (CNS), where it is integrated and a decision on how to react is made. Although stimuli commonly cause the body to respond, it is the CNS that finally determines whether a signal causes a reaction or not.

Pyramidal cell projection neurons in the cerebral cortex and hippocampus

Pyramidal cells, or pyramidal neurons, are a type of multipolar neuron found in areas of the brain including the cerebral cortex, the hippocampus, and the amygdala. Pyramidal neurons are the primary excitation units of the mammalian prefrontal cortex and the corticospinal tract. Pyramidal neurons are also one of two cell types where the characteristic sign, Negri bodies, are found in post-mortem rabies infection. Pyramidal neurons were first discovered and studied by Santiago Ramón y Cajal. Since then, studies on pyramidal neurons have focused on topics ranging from neuroplasticity to cognition.

Molecular neuroscience is a branch of neuroscience that observes concepts in molecular biology applied to the nervous systems of animals. The scope of this subject covers topics such as molecular neuroanatomy, mechanisms of molecular signaling in the nervous system, the effects of genetics and epigenetics on neuronal development, and the molecular basis for neuroplasticity and neurodegenerative diseases. As with molecular biology, molecular neuroscience is a relatively new field that is considerably dynamic.

An apical dendrite is a dendrite that emerges from the apex of a pyramidal cell. Apical dendrites are one of two primary categories of dendrites, and they distinguish the pyramidal cells from spiny stellate cells in the cortices. Pyramidal cells are found in the prefrontal cortex, the hippocampus, the entorhinal cortex, the olfactory cortex, and other areas. Dendrite arbors formed by apical dendrites are the means by which synaptic inputs into a cell are integrated. The apical dendrites in these regions contribute significantly to memory, learning, and sensory associations by modulating the excitatory and inhibitory signals received by the pyramidal cells.

Neurotransmission

Neurotransmission is the process by which signaling molecules called neurotransmitters are released by the axon terminal of a neuron, and bind to and react with the receptors on the dendrites of another neuron a short distance away. A similar process occurs in retrograde neurotransmission, where the dendrites of the postsynaptic neuron release retrograde neurotransmitters that signal through receptors that are located on the axon terminal of the presynaptic neuron, mainly at GABAergic and glutamatergic synapses.

Synapse Junction between two neurons or a neuron and another cell

In the nervous system, a synapse is a structure that permits a neuron to pass an electrical or chemical signal to another neuron or to the target effector cell.

Synaptic potential

Synaptic potential refers to the potential difference across the postsynaptic membrane that results from the action of neurotransmitters at a neuronal synapse. In other words, it is the “incoming” signal that a neuron receives. There are two forms of synaptic potential: excitatory and inhibitory. The type of potential produced depends on both the postsynaptic receptor, more specifically the changes in conductance of ion channels in the post synaptic membrane, and the nature of the released neurotransmitter. Excitatory post-synaptic potentials (EPSPs) depolarize the membrane and move the potential closer to the threshold for an action potential to be generated. Inhibitory postsynaptic potentials (IPSPs) hyperpolarize the membrane and move the potential farther away from the threshold, decreasing the likelihood of an action potential occurring. The Excitatory Post Synaptic potential is most likely going to be carried out by the neurotransmitters glutamate and acetylcholine, while the Inhibitory post synaptic potential will most likely be carried out by the neurotransmitters gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) and glycine. In order to depolarize a neuron enough to cause an action potential, there must be enough EPSPs to both depolarize the postsynaptic membrane from its resting membrane potential to its threshold and counterbalance the concurrent IPSPs that hyperpolarize the membrane. As an example, consider a neuron with a resting membrane potential of -70 mV (millivolts) and a threshold of -50 mV. It will need to be raised 20 mV in order to pass the threshold and fire an action potential. The neuron will account for all the many incoming excitatory and inhibitory signals via summative neural integration, and if the result is an increase of 20 mV or more, an action potential will occur.

Neural backpropagation is the phenomenon in which after the action potential of a neuron creates a voltage spike down the axon another impulse is generated from the soma and propagates toward to the apical portions of the dendritic arbor or dendrites, from which much of the original input current originated. In addition to active backpropagation of the action potential, there is also passive electrotonic spread. While there is ample evidence to prove the existence of backpropagating action potentials, the function of such action potentials and the extent to which they invade the most distal dendrites remains highly controversial.

Dendritic spike

In neurophysiology, a dendritic spike refers to an action potential generated in the dendrite of a neuron. Dendrites are branched extensions of a neuron. They receive electrical signals emitted from projecting neurons and transfer these signals to the cell body, or soma. Dendritic signaling has traditionally been viewed as a passive mode of electrical signaling. Unlike its axon counterpart which can generate signals through action potentials, dendrites were believed to only have the ability to propagate electrical signals by physical means: changes in conductance, length, cross sectional area, etc. However, the existence of dendritic spikes was proposed and demonstrated by W. Alden Spencer, Eric Kandel, Rodolfo Llinás and coworkers in the 1960s and a large body of evidence now makes it clear that dendrites are active neuronal structures. Dendrites contain voltage-gated ion channels giving them the ability to generate action potentials. Dendritic spikes have been recorded in numerous types of neurons in the brain and are thought to have great implications in neuronal communication, memory, and learning. They are one of the major factors in long-term potentiation.

Summation (neurophysiology)

Summation, which includes both spatial and temporal summation, is the process that determines whether or not an action potential will be generated by the combined effects of excitatory and inhibitory signals, both from multiple simultaneous inputs, and from repeated inputs. Depending on the sum total of many individual inputs, summation may or may not reach the threshold voltage to trigger an action potential.

Cellular neuroscience is a branch of neuroscience concerned with the study of neurons at a cellular level. This includes morphology and physiological properties of single neurons. Several techniques such as intracellular recording, patch-clamp, and voltage-clamp technique, pharmacology, confocal imaging, molecular biology, two photon laser scanning microscopy and Ca2+ imaging have been used to study activity at the cellular level. Cellular neuroscience examines the various types of neurons, the functions of different neurons, the influence of neurons upon each other, and how neurons work together.

Nonsynaptic plasticity

Nonsynaptic plasticity is a form of neuroplasticity that involves modification of ion channel function in the axon, dendrites, and cell body that results in specific changes in the integration of excitatory postsynaptic potentials (EPSPs) and inhibitory postsynaptic potentials (IPSPs). Nonsynaptic plasticity is a modification of the intrinsic excitability of the neuron. It interacts with synaptic plasticity, but it is considered a separate entity from synaptic plasticity. Intrinsic modification of the electrical properties of neurons plays a role in many aspects of plasticity from homeostatic plasticity to learning and memory itself. Nonsynaptic plasticity affects synaptic integration, subthreshold propagation, spike generation, and other fundamental mechanisms of neurons at the cellular level. These individual neuronal alterations can result in changes in higher brain function, especially learning and memory. However, as an emerging field in neuroscience, much of the knowledge about nonsynaptic plasticity is uncertain and still requires further investigation to better define its role in brain function and behavior.

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Further reading