What is a neuron?

Neurons, or nerve cells, are on of the basic units of the brain responsible for receiving sensory input from the external world, processing that information, forming memories, and producing motor commands to our muscles.

This nervous system has two main divisions of cells: nerve cells (neurons), and glial cells (glia). Glial cells have traditionally been recognized as a kind of support network for neurons, providing many essential functions to facilitate the neural network. However, they have more recently been acknowledged to form a communication network themselves, working in tandem with neurons. The function of a neuron is determined by where it is in the brain, how it is connected with neighbouring cells, and its individual functional character. Take the analogy of a human individual: our function in society is determined by where we are, who we are connected to, and how we interact with others and our environment.

Neurons communicate by means of two primary processes that have been comprehensively studied: an electrical signal within the neuron, and chemical signals between neurons. Using various chemicals known as neurotransmitters, neurons transmit signals across a very small gap between cells in an area known as the synaptic cleft. Most neurons can send and receive signals by different types of neurotransmitters, and different neurotransmitters work at different speeds.

SoP Standard Members: Learn more from Introduction to the Brain and Neuroscience 101