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Nifty Neurons
 

4 cartoon characters dancing with colourful brains above their heads.You contain billions and billions of neurons, and it’s just as well that you do, because they provide the communication paths for information to travel between the body and the brain and around the brain itself. Every time you move, feel the wind in your face, hear a voice, or recall a memory, that information is moving along and between neurons.

So what are they? Neurons are cells that have a special shape that lets them do their job of conducting information. Neurons typically have extensions coming out of them – spiky bits that can essentially receive information.

These ‘receivers’ are called dendrites, and they pick up a signal from the body or from other neurons within the brain. You could think of them as functioning like an aerial on a building and the building itself, the cell body or soma, is like mission control. The soma (mission control) is a really important structure because without it, the neuron dies.

Often the information is something the neuron has to pass on elsewhere – to another part of the brain or maybe out to a muscle in the body – therefore the information needs to travel.

Mission Control

Many neurons have a long, string-like part called the ‘axon’ – this is like a communication cable coming out of mission control that lets the neuron stretch across relatively long distances – some bundles of neurons, or nerves, go from your spine all the way down to your little toe! Axons in neurons within the brain aren’t quite so long, but they let regions of the brain ‘talk’ to each other.

In order to get the piece of information from point A to point B, an electrical signal travels along the axon. And those signals can move fast – in some cases at around 120 metres per second! That’s pretty fast when you consider that a cheetah, the world’s fastest animal, reaches speeds of 33 metres per second, which is more than three times faster than the current 100 metre world record holder Usain Bolt.


What you do affects how your brain works. Watch this video to learn how.


MS affects the speed and quality of signals

To help ensure the signal gets there, some axons are surrounded by myelin, a fatty sheath, which acts as an insulator – much like a plastic cable around electrical wires.

In Multiple Sclerosis the immune system attacks the protective myelin sheath that covers nerve fibres. This interferes with the speed and quality of signals, making it difficult for your brain to communicate with itself and with the rest of your body.

At the end of the axon, the tip of the transmitting axon forms a junction with a receiver – often a dendrite of another neuron. At this point, we move from an electrical signal to a chemical signal. Chemicals, called neurotransmitters, are released when the electrical signal is received and pass across a gap between the sender and receiver called a synapse – like passing a note in class, but this is all legit, and note-passing neurons form a friendly kind of bond that strengthens their connection.

The neuron that receives the signal can further pass it along to other neurons in its network.  In this way information can travel rapidly around the brain. Or the neuron may stop the signal and so slow the information, which is another important function in the network.

So there you have it, that’s how your brain communicates with itself and with the rest of your body: information moves from dendrites to the cell body and along the axon, from one neuron to another. In this way the billions of neurons inside your body form trillions of connections between them, and the signals that whizz and fizz through these networks allow you to do what you do.

The route a piece of information takes through neurons around your brain is called a pathway, and the more you use a pathway the more defined it gets.

Back to Brain 101

 
 
Hello Brain For more info on brain health visit Hello Brain
 

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