Soma (biology)

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Structure of a typical neuron

The soma (somas), perikaryon (pl. perikarya), neurocyton, or cell body is the bulbous, non-process portion of a neuron or other brain cell type, containing the cell nucleus. The word 'soma' comes from the Greek ' σῶμα ', meaning 'body'. Although it is often used to refer to neurons, it can also refer to other cell types as well, including astrocytes, [1] oligodendrocytes, [2] and microglia. [3] There are many different specialized types of neurons, and their sizes vary from as small as about 5 micrometres to over 10 millimetre for some of the smallest and largest neurons of invertebrates, respectively.

Cell (biology) The basic structural and functional unit of all organisms; the smallest unit of life.

The cell is the basic structural, functional, and biological unit of all known organisms. A cell is the smallest unit of life. Cells are often called the "building blocks of life". The study of cells is called cell biology or cellular biology.

Neuron electrically excitable cell

A neuron, also known as a neurone or nerve cell, is an electrically excitable cell that communicates with other cells via specialized connections called synapses. It is the main component of nervous tissue. All animals except sponges and placozoans have neurons, but other multicellular organisms such as plants do not.

Cell nucleus A membrane-bounded organelle of eukaryotic cells in which chromosomes are housed and replicated.

In cell biology, the nucleus is a membrane-bound organelle found in eukaryotic cells. Eukaryotes usually have a single nucleus, but a few cell types, such as mammalian red blood cells, have no nuclei, and a few others including osteoclasts have many.

Animation in the reference. Neuron Cell Body.png
Animation in the reference.

The soma of a neuron (i.e., the main part of the neuron in which the dendrites branch off of) contains many organelles, including granules called Nissl granules, which are composed largely of rough endoplasmic reticulum and free polyribosomes. [4] The cell nucleus is a key feature of the soma. The nucleus is the source of most of the RNA that is produced in neurons. In general, most proteins are produced from mRNAs that do not travel far from the cell nucleus. This creates a challenge for supplying new proteins to axon endings that can be a meter or more away from the soma. Axons contain microtubule-associated motor proteins that transport protein-containing vesicles between the soma and the synapses at the axon terminals. Such transport of molecules towards and away from the soma maintains critical cell functions.

Nissl body

A Nissl body, also known as Nissl substance and Nissl material, is a large granular body found in neurons. These granules are of rough endoplasmic reticulum (RER) with rosettes of free ribosomes, and are the site of protein synthesis. It was named after Franz Nissl, a German neuropathologist who invented the Nissl staining method.

RNA family of large biological molecules

Ribonucleic acid (RNA) is a polymeric molecule essential in various biological roles in coding, decoding, regulation and expression of genes. RNA and DNA are nucleic acids, and, along with lipids, proteins and carbohydrates, constitute the four major macromolecules essential for all known forms of life. Like DNA, RNA is assembled as a chain of nucleotides, but unlike DNA it is more often found in nature as a single-strand folded onto itself, rather than a paired double-strand. Cellular organisms use messenger RNA (mRNA) to convey genetic information that directs synthesis of specific proteins. Many viruses encode their genetic information using an RNA genome.

Protein Biological molecule consisting of chains of amino acid residues

Proteins are large biomolecules, or macromolecules, consisting of one or more long chains of amino acid residues. Proteins perform a vast array of functions within organisms, including catalysing metabolic reactions, DNA replication, responding to stimuli, providing structure to cells and organisms, and transporting molecules from one location to another. Proteins differ from one another primarily in their sequence of amino acids, which is dictated by the nucleotide sequence of their genes, and which usually results in protein folding into a specific three-dimensional structure that determines its activity.

The axon hillock is a specialized domain of the neuronal cell body from which the axon originates. A high amount of protein synthesis occurs in this region, as it contains many Nissl granules (which are ribosomes wrapped in RER) andXXXX polyribosomes. Within the axon hillock, materials are sorted as either items that will enter the axon (like the components of the cytoskeletal architecture of the axon, mitochondria, etc.) or will remain in the soma. In addition, the axon hillock also has a specialized plasma membrane that contains large numbers of voltage-gated ion channels, since this is most often the site of action potential initiation. [4]

Axon hillock Portion of the neuronal cell soma from which the axon originates.

The axon hillock is a specialized part of the cell body of a neuron that connects to the axon. It can be identified using light microscopy from its appearance and location in a neuron and from its sparse distribution of Nissl substance.

The survival of some sensory neurons depends on axon terminals making contact with sources of survival factors that prevent apoptosis. The survival factors are neurotrophic factors, including molecules such as nerve growth factor (NGF). NGF interacts with receptors at axon terminals, and this produces a signal that must be transported up the length of the axon to the nucleus. A current theory of how such survival signals are sent from axon endings to the soma includes the idea that NGF receptors are endocytosed from the surface of axon tips and that such endocytotic vesicles are transported up the axon. [5]

Sensory neuron nerve cell that converts environmental stimuli into corresponding internal stimuli

Sensory neurons also known as afferent neurons are neurons that convert a specific type of stimulus, via their receptors, into action potentials or graded potentials. This process is called sensory transduction. The cell bodies of the sensory neurons are located in the dorsal ganglia of the spinal cord.

Apoptosis programmed cell death process

Apoptosis is a form of programmed cell death that occurs in multicellular organisms. Biochemical events lead to characteristic cell changes (morphology) and death. These changes include blebbing, cell shrinkage, nuclear fragmentation, chromatin condensation, chromosomal DNA fragmentation, and global mRNA decay. The average adult human loses between 50 and 70 billion cells each day due to apoptosis. For an average human child between the ages of 8 to 14 year old approximately 20 to 30 billion cells die per day.

Nerve growth factor protein-coding gene in the species Homo sapiens

Nerve growth factor (NGF) is a neurotrophic factor and neuropeptide primarily involved in the regulation of growth, maintenance, proliferation, and survival of certain target neurons. It is perhaps the prototypical growth factor, in that it was one of the first to be described. Since it was first isolated by Nobel Laureates Rita Levi-Montalcini and Stanley Cohen in 1956, numerous biological processes involving NGF have been identified, two of them being the survival of pancreatic beta cells and the regulation of the immune system.

Related Research Articles

The development of the nervous system, or neural development, refers to the processes that generate, shape, and reshape the nervous system of animals, from the earliest stages of embryonic development to adulthood. The field of neural development draws on both neuroscience and developmental biology to describe and provide insight into the cellular and molecular mechanisms by which complex nervous systems develop, from the nematode and fruit fly to mammals. Defects in neural development can lead to malformations and a wide variety of sensory, motor, and cognitive impairments, including holoprosencephaly and other neurological disorders in the human such as Rett syndrome, Down syndrome and intellectual disability.

Nervous tissue main component of the nervous system

Nervous tissue, also called neural tissue or nerve tissue, is the main tissue component of the nervous system. The nervous system regulates and controls bodily functions and activity and consists of two parts: the central nervous system (CNS) comprising the brain and spinal cord, and the peripheral nervous system (PNS) comprising the branching peripheral nerves. It is composed of neurons, or nerve cells, which receive and transmit impulses, and neuroglia, also known as glial cells or glia, which assist the propagation of the nerve impulse as well as provide nutrients to the neurons.

Glia type of cells in nervous system

Glia, also called glial cells or neuroglia, are non-neuronal cells in the central nervous system and the peripheral nervous system. They maintain homeostasis, form myelin, and provide support and protection for neurons. In the central nervous system, glial cells include oligodendrocytes, astrocytes, ependymal cells, and microglia, and in the peripheral nervous system glial cells include Schwann cells and satellite cells. They have four main functions: (1) to surround neurons and hold them in place; (2) to supply nutrients and oxygen to neurons; (3) to insulate one neuron from another; (4) to destroy pathogens and remove dead neurons. They also play a role in neurotransmission and synaptic connections, and in physiological processes like breathing. While glia were thought to outnumber neurons by a ratio of 10:1, a recent study provides evidence for a ratio of less than 1:1.

Axoplasm is the cytoplasm within the axon of a neuron. For some neuronal types this can be more than 99% of the total cytoplasm.

Astrocyte star-shaped glial cells in the brain and spinal cord

Astrocytes, also known collectively as astroglia, are characteristic star-shaped glial cells in the brain and spinal cord. The proportion of astrocytes in the brain is not well defined. Depending on the counting technique used, studies have found that the astrocyte proportion varies by region and ranges from 20% to 40% of all glia. They perform many functions, including biochemical support of endothelial cells that form the blood–brain barrier, provision of nutrients to the nervous tissue, maintenance of extracellular ion balance, and a role in the repair and scarring process of the brain and spinal cord following traumatic injuries.

Wallerian degeneration

Wallerian degeneration is an active process of degeneration that results when a nerve fiber is cut or crushed and the part of the axon distal to the injury degenerates. A related process of dying back or retrograde degeneration known as 'Wallerian-like degeneration' occurs in many neurodegenerative diseases, especially those where axonal transport is impaired. Primary culture studies suggest that a failure to deliver sufficient quantities of the essential axonal protein NMNAT2 is a key initiating event.


Neurotrophins are a family of proteins that induce the survival, development, and function of neurons.

Synaptogenesis is the formation of synapses between neurons in the nervous system. Although it occurs throughout a healthy person's lifespan, an explosion of synapse formation occurs during early brain development, known as exuberant synaptogenesis. Synaptogenesis is particularly important during an individual's critical period, during which there is a certain degree of synaptic pruning due to competition for neural growth factors by neurons and synapses. Processes that are not used, or inhibited during their critical period will fail to develop normally later on in life.


Astrogliosis is an abnormal increase in the number of astrocytes due to the destruction of nearby neurons from CNS trauma, infection, ischemia, stroke, autoimmune responses, and neurodegenerative disease. In healthy neural tissue, astrocytes play critical roles in energy provision, regulation of blood flow, homeostasis of extracellular fluid, homeostasis of ions and transmitters, regulation of synapse function, and synaptic remodeling. Astrogliosis changes the molecular expression and morphology of astrocytes, causing scar formation and, in severe cases, inhibition of axon regeneration.

Microglia glial cell located throughout the brain and spinal cord that play a role in immune response and maintaining homeostasis

Microglia are a type of neuroglia located throughout the brain and spinal cord. Microglia account for 10–15% of all cells found within the brain. As the resident macrophage cells, they act as the first and main form of active immune defense in the central nervous system (CNS). Microglia are distributed in large non-overlapping regions throughout the CNS. Microglia are key cells in overall brain maintenance—they are constantly scavenging the CNS for plaques, damaged or unnecessary neurons and synapses, and infectious agents. Since these processes must be efficient to prevent potentially fatal damage, microglia are extremely sensitive to even small pathological changes in the CNS. This sensitivity is achieved in part by the presence of unique potassium channels that respond to even small changes in extracellular potassium.

Oligodendrocyte progenitor cell

Oligodendrocyte progenitor cells (OPCs), also known as oligodendrocyte precursor cells, NG2-glia or polydendrocytes, are a subtype of glial cells in the central nervous system. They are precursors to oligodendrocytes and may also be able to differentiate into neurons and astrocytes.


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 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.

Gliosis is a nonspecific reactive change of glial cells in response to damage to the central nervous system (CNS). In most cases, gliosis involves the proliferation or hypertrophy of several different types of glial cells, including astrocytes, microglia, and oligodendrocytes. In its most extreme form, the proliferation associated with gliosis leads to the formation of a glial scar.

Low-affinity nerve growth factor receptor protein-coding gene in the species Homo sapiens

The low-affinity nerve growth factor receptor is one of the two receptor types for the neurotrophins, a family of protein growth factors that stimulate neuronal cells to survive and differentiate. LNGFR is a member of the tumor necrosis factor receptor superfamily – indeed, LNGFR was the first member of this large family of receptors to be characterized.

Calyx of Held The terminal specialization of a calyciferous axon which forms large synapses in the mammalian auditory central nervous system.

The Calyx of Held is a particularly large synapse in the mammalian auditory central nervous system, so named by Hans Held in his 1893 article Die centrale Gehörleitung because of its resemblance to the calyx of a flower. Globular bushy cells in the anteroventral cochlear nucleus (AVCN) send axons to the contralateral medial nucleus of the trapezoid body (MNTB), where they synapse via these calyces on MNTB principal cells. These principal cells then project to the ipsilateral lateral superior olive (LSO), where they inhibit postsynaptic neurons and provide a basis for interaural level detection (ILD), required for high frequency sound localization. This synapse has been described as the largest in the brain.

Gliotransmitters are chemicals released from glial cells that facilitate neuronal communication between neurons and other glial cells. They are usually induced from Ca2+ signaling, although recent research has questioned the role of Ca2+ in gliotransmitters and may require a revision of the relevance of gliotransmitters in neuronal signalling in general.


Chromatolysis is the dissolution of the Nissl bodies in the cell body of a neuron. It is an induced response of the cell usually triggered by axotomy, ischemia, toxicity to the cell, cell exhaustion, virus infections, and hibernation in lower vertebrates. Neuronal recovery through regeneration can occur after chromatolysis, but most often it is a precursor of apoptosis. The event of chromatolysis is also characterized by a prominent migration of the nucleus towards the periphery of the cell and an increase in the size of the nucleolus, nucleus, and cell body. The term "chromatolysis" was initially used in the 1940s to describe the observed form of cell death characterized by the gradual disintegration of nuclear components; a process which is now called apoptosis. Chromatolysis is still used as a term to distinguish the particular apoptotic process in the neuronal cells, where Nissl substance disintegrates.


  1. Bazargani, N; Attwell, D (February 2016). "Astrocyte calcium signaling: the third wave". Nature Neuroscience. 19 (2): 182–9. doi:10.1038/nn.4201. PMID   26814587.
  2. Baumann, N; Pham-Dinh, D (April 2001). "Biology of oligodendrocyte and myelin in the mammalian central nervous system". Physiological Reviews. 81 (2): 871–927. doi:10.1152/physrev.2001.81.2.871. PMID   11274346.
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  4. 1 2 Squire, Larry; Berg, Darwin; Bloom, Floyd; du Lac, Sascha; Ghosh, Anirvan; Spitzer, Nicholas, eds. (2008). Fundamental Neuroscience (3rd ed.). Academic Press. ISBN   978-0-12-374019-9.
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Spinal cord long, thin, tubular structure made up of nervous tissue

The spinal cord is a long, thin, tubular structure made up of nervous tissue, which extends from the medulla oblongata in the brainstem to the lumbar region of the vertebral column. It encloses the central canal of the spinal cord, which contains cerebrospinal fluid. The brain and spinal cord together make up the central nervous system (CNS). In humans, the spinal cord begins at the occipital bone, passing through the foramen magnum and entering the spinal canal at the beginning of the cervical vertebrae. The spinal cord extends down to between the first and second lumbar vertebrae, where it ends. The enclosing bony vertebral column protects the relatively shorter spinal cord. It is around 45 cm (18 in) in men and around 43 cm (17 in) long in women. The diameter of the spinal cord ranges from 13 mm in the cervical and lumbar regions to 6.4 mm in the thoracic area.