What are Neurons
What are Neurons
If you aim to expand your understanding of how you are wired to be who you presently are, you must first understand nerve cells, how they function and connect to each other. If you are searching for What are neurons, and want to understand more, then read further.
This article, therefore, highlights important things you should know about neurons and their functioning. The pointers highlighted in this article will subsequently enable you to expand your understanding of how you can change your mind. If you are a coach who is looking to develop Coaching using Neuroscience knowledge to work with your clients, you will deepen your knowledge about Neurons. Coaching using Neuroscience is part of our highly recommended Emotional Intelligence Training.
What are Neurons
The brain primarily consists of nerve cells that are called neurons.
Neurons are brain cells. They are the most specialized cells and the most sensitive type of tissue of all biological systems.
Factually, neurons are the only cells in the body that communicate directly with one another. They process information and send messages back and forth to other neurons in the form of electrochemical signals or impulses. Thus, neurons also initiate specific actions in other parts of the brain and the body.
Types of Neurons
There are different types of specialized neurons. Different neurons receive different kinds of stimuli. And they conduct electrochemical signals to neighboring neurons in specific directions.
Neurons can be classified based on various factors like their shape, size, location, the direction in which they conduct impulses, and the number of extensions they have.
They can also be classified based on the number, length, and mode of branching of their neurites, or cellular branches.
Following are some of the popularly known neutron types:
- Sensory N: These neurons receive information from both outside and inside the body via senses. And they send the information they receive to the brain or the spinal
- Motor N: These neurons convey signals from the brain or spinal cord to the And they cause the occurrence of a movement or a specific function in a tissue or an organ.
- Unipolar N: These neurons have only a single neurite. This neurite divides from the cell body into two branches at a short distance. (Appendages, also known as neurites, extend off the cell body of the neuron.)
- Bipolar N: These neurons have an elongated cell A neurite emerges from each end of their body. Further, bipolar neurons are less numerous than the other types of neurons. And they have one axon and only one dendrite.
- Multipolar N: These neurons have a number of axon neurites arising from the cell They have one axon and several dendrites. Most of the neurons in the brain and in the spinal cord are multipolar neurons.
- Golgi type I N: These neurons have a long axon as long as a meter in length. The axons of these neurons originate from fibers of the brain and the spinal cord. Also, the axons of these neurons exit the spine from the peripheral nerves. The pyramidal cells of the cerebral cortex, Purkinje’s cells of the cerebellum, and the motor cells of the spinal cord are all examples of Golgi type I neurons
- Golgi type II N: These neurons are short-axon multipolar neurons. They have a sort of star-shaped appearance, and they are the most numerous type of nerve cells. Their branches are so short that they usually end close to the cell And in some cases, the axon might not even be present. These cells are the most commonly found in the cerebellar cortex and cerebral cortex.
Things You Must Know About Neurons and their functioning
As a coach what are neurons can be an interesting read to understand Neuroscience and its functioning. Listed below are a few interesting and important things you should know about them and their functioning:
1. Neurons are the most fundamental component of the nervous system
Fundamentally, neurons are the most significant cells that make up the brain. Also, the brain has the greatest cluster of neurons in the entire body.
If you take a tiny slice of brain tissue that is equivalent to the size of a grain of sand, you will notice about 100,000 neurons.
As a matter of fact, the neurons are packed very tightly. If you take a pebble-sized chunk of tissue from the human brain, you will find that it contains about two miles of neuron material.
Each neutron is a fraction of a millimeter in size. And overall, the entire brain contains some 100 billion neurons.
Following is a rough estimate of the number of neurons this is.
You would be counting for nearly 3,171 years if you were to count to 100 billion, second by second.
If you were to stack 100 billion pieces of paper, the stack would be 5,000 miles high. And that is the distance from San Francisco to Paris.
There are other neurons that are much longer than the nerve cells in the brain. They are more than 3 feet long.
The neurons vary in length. But, they essentially operate in the same manner. These interesting facts about Neurons, and what are neurons will go a long way if you are a coach to understand the brain structure, especially what they are, and their functioning.
2. Typically, a nerve cell looks like a leafless oak tree in winter
The external structure of a nerve cell is what differentiates it from other cells.
Unlike other cells, mostly neurons look more like a tree.
The nucleus, also known as the cell body of the neuron, is where the large branches converge inward toward the trunk.
A neuron has two types of appendages that extend off in approximately opposite directions.
All neurons have one and only one axon. It is a long fiber that makes the trunk of the neuron tree. Typically, axons range from a tenth of a millimeter to two meters in length. And they have root-like ends that are called axon terminals.
The axon tree trunk narrows into smaller branches that further divide into finger-like twigs. These branches and twigs are called dendrites. And they look antennae-like flexible extensions.
Furthermore, the dendrites terminate into dendrite spines. These are tiny, granular, knob-like extensions. Precisely, they are the specific receivers of dendrite’s information. And they are crucial in the learning process.
The amazing thing, however, is that neurons never actually touch each other. There is always a space of about one-millionth of a centimeter in width between the neutron. This in-between space is known as the synapse.
3. Neurons can directly communicate
The communicative ability of neurons is what makes the nervous system so specialized and different from any other bodily system.
The unique way in which these nerve cells communicate with each other enables them to control and coordinate all the functions of the body.
As such, the general method of communication between neurons is the same in all human beings. However, the networks or patterns in which nerve cells are organized shape the different behaviors in individuals and make the unique differences people possess.
Neurons communicate by means of their axons and dendrites in quite an intricate wiring system.
The axon sends electrochemical information to other neurons. And, the dendrites receive messages from other nerve cells.
In terms of the tree analogy, the message is received by dendrites (branches) from the axon terminals (root system) of other neurons (trees), and so on.
Incidentally, although axon terminals typically send information to another neuron’s dendrites, every now and then an axon extension may connect directly to the cell body of a neighboring neuron.
4. Communication is initiated and conducted in a neuron’s cell membrane
A neuron’s cell membrane or plasma membrane is its skin. It is a continuous external boundary that surrounds every neuron. And it is as thin as about 8 nanometers, or 100,000th of a meter. You cannot even view it with a standard light microscope.
The cell membrane of a neuron allows certain ions to diffuse through it, but it restricts others.
Here’s what happens:
When a neuron is in its resting state, the inner surface of its cell membrane has a relative negative charge as compared to its surroundings. The reason being, only fewer positively charged ions exist inside the cell membrane than outside the cell.
And when a neuron is activated, more ions instantly move into the neuron through the cell membrane. And this changes the membrane’s inner surface from a negative charge to a positive charge.
The ions that are most concerned with here include sodium, chloride, and potassium ions. Both sodium and potassium ions have positive electrical charges. And chloride ions are negatively charged.
The flow of ions lasts only about five milliseconds. It is, however, long enough to excite the nerve cell and cultivate an action potential, that travels down the axon. This causes a quick exchange of charged particles along the membrane to the axon terminals.
Once an action potential is triggered, the ions’ activity is conducted along with the nerve cell in a cascading, wavelike effect. This is called a nerve impulse.
The speed of transmission in nerve fibers is impressive. An action potential lasting a thousandth of a second can travel down an axon at a speed of more than 250 miles per hour. In simple words, this pulse can move at up to 100 meters (that is approximately the length of a football field) in one second.
5. Neurotransmitters pass important information to other nerve cells across the tiny synaptic space
The chemical messengers are called neurotransmitters are stored in the minuscule synaptic vesicles. They pass important information to other nerve cells and to other parts of the body, across the tiny synaptic space. And they enable the body to orchestrate specific functions.
In simple terms, neurotransmitters are the chemicals that link the communication between neurons so that messages travel throughout the brain. They cross the gap between the neuron and a neighboring nerve cell. On the receiving end of the gap, they cause the release of specific chemicals that influence the activity of the neighboring nerve cell. That, consequently, drives the next receiving neuron, and so on.
Each of the electrical impulses traveling down the neuron has an exact frequency. Nerve impulses are not all the same. And each kind of neurotransmitter can respond only to a specific, different frequency.
Thus, neurotransmitters are released only when there is a specific, corresponding electrochemical impulse.
Further, close observation reveals that the nerve impulses start as electrical in nature. Then they turn chemical and then become electrical again. Thus, the electrical impulses that neurons generate get transmuted into chemical impulses at the synapse via neurotransmitters. These chemical messages then trigger electrical impulses at the neighboring neuron.
Not every nerve cell passes along the messages it receives. Only when a certain electrical threshold is reached, the adjoining neuron is activated to continue passing the message.
Usually, there must be an abundance of neurotransmitter activity at the receiving end of the neuron for the next nerve cell to become excited enough to fire. Small amounts of neurotransmitters from singular nerve cell firings generally do not reach the threshold to produce an action potential on the postsynaptic terminal.
5. Humans behave and respond to their environment using the same processes that evolved in the jellyfish millions of years
The first nerve cells had evolved in creatures that were very similar to the present-day jellyfish.
Survival of that primitive organism depended on its ability to detect and move toward food. It involved a sensory function and a motor function. It was essential for that organism to develop specialized cells that could interact more effectively with its environment, and guide its movements with some degree of awareness and coordination. These movements had to be more than just random actions.
Put differently, that organism needed a system that could sense the environment, and then respond appropriately via movement and action, sometimes voluntarily and sometimes involuntarily.
Essentially, this is what the nervous system does. It receives sensory messages from the environment and conducts those signals to the cells that specialize in producing movement.
Accordingly, this primitive creature developed nerve cells and the sensory and motor functions of one of the earliest, rudimentary nervous systems.
Those simple neurological mechanisms were such effective adaptations that they became the norm in evolution.
Whether the nerve cells are from jellyfish, other animals, or human beings, they operate under the same basic electrochemical principles for conducting information. Even today, humans behave and respond to the environment using the same processes that evolved in the jellyfish millions of years ago.
Essentially, nature made the quantum leap from the most primitive nervous systems to the human brain by putting more of the nerve cells together in diversified ways.
As neurons wired together in increasingly intricate neurological networks, the communication between neurons multiplied exponentially.
Endnote: Neuroscience-based Coaching is becoming very popular these days, as it increases the coach’s awareness about the brain structure and functioning, and adds a different dimension to the skill of a coach. It is highly recommended to add Neuroscience knowledge to your coaching toolkit as in the future Neuroscience is going to bring in more information about the brain, and how people form habits, change beliefs, stay motivated, and are able to focus more and work towards their goals. Best Life Coaches, Top NLP trainers, Leadership & Executive Coaches are using Emotional Intelligence, and the latest developments in Neuroscience to take their coaching to next level.
Summary ~ Neurons and functioning
This article explains what are neurons and their several types for a coach who wants to deepen Neuroscience knowledge about what are neurons. It also highlights some important facts you should know about them and their functioning in humans.
Following is a snapshot of the points described in this article:
– What are Neurons ~ They are the most specialized cells and the most sensitive type of tissue of all biological systems.
- They can be classified based on various factors like their shape, size, location, the direction in which they conduct impulses, number, length, and mode of branching of their neurites, or cellular branches, and the number of extensions they have.
- If you take a tiny slice of brain tissue that is equivalent to the size of a grain of sand, you will notice about 100,000 neurons. Each neutron is a fraction of a millimeter in size. And overall, the entire brain contains of some 100 billion
- The unique way in which these nerve cells communicate with each other enables them to control and coordinate all the functions of the
- Neurons communicate by means of their axons and dendrites in quite an intricate wiring system.
- Neurotransmitters are the chemicals that link the communication between neurons so that messages travel throughout the brain. They cross the gap between the neuron and a neighboring nerve cell. On the receiving end of the gap, they cause the release of specific chemicals that influence the activity of the neighboring nerve cell. That, consequently, drives the next receiving neuron, and so on.