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Neurons: The basic cellular units of nervous tissue. Each neuron consists of a body, an axon, and dendrites. Their purpose is to receive, conduct, and transmit impulses in the Nervous system.

Calcium Imaging in Neurons

JoVE 5203

Calcium ions play an integral role in neuron function: They act as intracellular signals that can elicit responses such as altered gene expression and neurotransmitter release from synaptic vesicles. Within the cell, calcium concentration is highly dynamic due to the presence of pumps that selectively transport these ions in response to a variety of signals. Calcium…

 Neuroscience

Neuron Structure

JoVE 10842

Neurons are the main type of cell in the nervous system that generate and transmit electrochemical signals. They primarily communicate with each other using neurotransmitters at specific junctions called synapses. Neurons come in many shapes that often relate to their function, but most share three main structures: an axon and dendrites that extend out from a cell body.

The neuronal cell body—the soma— houses the nucleus and organelles vital to cellular function. Extending from the cell body are thin structures that are specialized for receiving and sending signals. Dendrites typically receive signals while the axon passes on the signals to other cells, such as other neurons or muscle cells. The point at which a neuron makes a connection to another cell is called a synapse. Neurons receive inputs primarily at postsynaptic terminals, which are frequently located on spines—small bumps protruding from the dendrites. These specialized structures contain receptors for neurotransmitters and other chemical signals. Dendrites are often highly branched, allowing some neurons to receive tens of thousands of inputs. Neurons most commonly receive signals at their dendrites, but they can also have synapses in other areas, such as the cell body. The signal received at the synapses travels down the dendrite to the soma, where the cell can proce

 Core: Biology

Somatosensation

JoVE 10859

The somatosensory system relays sensory information from the skin, mucous membranes, limbs, and joints. Somatosensation is more familiarly known as the sense of touch. A typical somatosensory pathway includes three types of long neurons: primary, secondary, and tertiary. Primary neurons have cell bodies located near the spinal cord in groups of neurons called dorsal root ganglia. The sensory neurons of ganglia innervate designated areas of skin called dermatomes. In the skin, specialized structures called mechanoreceptors transduce mechanical pressure or distortion into neural signals. In hairless skin, most disturbances can be detected by one of four types of mechanoreceptors. Two of these, Merkel disks and Ruffini endings, are slow-adapting and continue to respond to stimuli that remain in prolonged contact with the skin. Merkel disks respond to light touch. Ruffini endings detect deeper static touch, skin stretch, joint deformation, and warmth. The other two major cutaneous mechanoreceptors, Meissner corpuscles and Pacinian corpuscles, are rapidly-adapting. These mechanoreceptors detect dynamic stimuli, like those required to read Braille. Meissner corpuscles are responsive to delicate touch and pressure, as well as low-frequency vibrations. Pacinian corpuscles respond best to deep, repetitive pressure and high-frequency vibrations. Information detected

 Core: Biology

The Sympathetic Nervous System

JoVE 10840

The sympathetic nervous system—one of the two major divisions of the autonomic nervous system—is activated in times of stress. It prepares the body to meet the challenges of a demanding circumstance while inhibiting essential body functions—such as digestion—that are a lower priority at the moment.

As a student, you may have had the experience of walking into class and finding a surprise exam that you were not expecting. In the moment of realization, you may sense your gut tighten, your mouth goes dry, and your heart starts to race all of a sudden. These are signs of the sympathetic system taking over in preparation to react. While you may not be in immediate danger, the system has evolved to facilitate immediate reaction to stress or threats: blood is directed away from the digestive system and skin to increase energy supplies to muscles. Furthermore, the heart rate, and blood flow increase, and pupils dilate to maximize visual perception. At the same time, the adrenal gland releases epinephrine into the circulatory system. Your body is now primed to take action, whether that means to swiftly flee from danger or fight whatever threat may be at hand. The sympathetic nervous system can be activated by various parts of the brain, with the hypothalamus playing a particularly important role. Sympathetic instructions from the central

 Core: Biology

Olfaction

JoVE 10852

The sense of smell is achieved through the activities of the olfactory system. It starts when an airborne odorant enters the nasal cavity and reaches olfactory epithelium (OE). The OE is protected by a thin layer of mucus, which also serves the purpose of dissolving more complex compounds into simpler chemical odorants. The size of the OE and the density of sensory neurons varies among species; in humans, the OE is only about 9-10 cm2. The olfactory receptors are embedded in the cilia of the olfactory sensory neurons. Each neuron expresses only one type of olfactory receptor. However, each type of olfactory receptor is broadly tuned and can bind to multiple different odorants. For example, if receptor A binds to odorants 1 and 2, receptor B may bind to odorants 2 and 3, while receptor C binds to odorants 1 and 3. Thus, the detection and identification of an odor depend on the combination of olfactory receptors that recognize the odor; this is called combinatorial diversity. Olfactory sensory neurons are bipolar cells with a single long axon that sends olfactory information up to the olfactory bulb (OB). The OB is a part of the brain that is separated from the nasal cavity by the cribriform plate. Because of this convenient proximity between the nose and brain, the development of nasal drug applications is widely studied, especially in cases

 Core: Biology

What is a Nervous System?

JoVE 10838

The nervous system is the collection of specialized cells responsible for maintaining an organism’s internal environment and coordinating the interaction of an organism with the external world—from the control of essential functions such as heart rate and breathing to the movement needed to escape danger.

The vertebrate nervous system is divided into two major parts: the central nervous system (CNS) and the peripheral nervous system (PNS). The CNS includes the brain, spinal cord, and retina—the sensory tissue of the visual system. The PNS contains the sensory receptor cells for all of the other sensory systems—such as the touch receptors in the skin—as well as the nerves that carry information between the CNS and the rest of the body. Additionally, part of both the CNS and PNS contribute to the autonomic nervous system (also known as the visceral motor system). The autonomic nervous system controls smooth muscles, cardiac muscles, and glands that govern involuntary actions, such as digestion. The vertebrate brain is primarily divided into the cerebrum, cerebellum, and brainstem. The cerebrum is the largest, most anterior part of the brain that is divided into left and right hemispheres. Each hemisphere is further divided into four lobes: frontal, parietal, occipital, and temporal. The outermost layer of the cerebrum is called

 Core: Biology

Neural Regulation

JoVE 10835

Digestion begins with a cephalic phase that prepares the digestive system to receive food. When our brain processes visual or olfactory information about food, it triggers impulses in the cranial nerves innervating the salivary glands and stomach to prepare for food.

The cephalic phase is a conditioned or learned response to familiar foods. Our appetite or desire for a particular food modifies the preparatory responses directed by the brain. Individuals may produce more saliva and stomach rumblings in anticipation of apple pie than of broccoli. Appetite and desire are products of the hypothalamus and amygdala—brain areas associated with visceral processes and emotion. After the cephalic phase, digestion is governed by the enteric nervous system (ENS) as an unconditioned reflex. Individuals do not have to learn how to digest food; it happens regardless of whether it is apple pie or broccoli. The ENS is unique in that it functions (mostly) independent of the brain. About 90% of the communication are messages sent from the ENS to the brain rather than the other way around. These messages give the brain information about satiety, nausea, or bloating. The ENS, as part of the peripheral nervous system, is also unique in that it contains both motor and sensory neurons. For example, the ENS directs smooth muscle movements that churn and propel food al

 Core: Biology

The Synapse

JoVE 10997

Neurons communicate with one another by passing on their electrical signals to other neurons. A synapse is the location where two neurons meet to exchange signals. At the synapse, the neuron that sends the signal is called the presynaptic cell, while the neuron that receives the message is called the postsynaptic cell. Note that most neurons can be both presynaptic and postsynaptic, as they both transmit and receive information. An electrical synapse is one type of synapse in which the pre- and postsynaptic cells are physically coupled by proteins called gap junctions. This allows electrical signals to be directly transmitted to the postsynaptic cell. One feature of these synapses is that they can transmit electrical signals extremely quickly—sometimes at a fraction of a millisecond—and do not require any energy input. This is often useful in circuits that are part of escape behaviors, such as that found in the crayfish that couples the sensation of a predator with the activation of the motor response. In contrast, transmission at chemical synapses is a stepwise process. When an action potential reaches the end of the axonal terminal, voltage-gated calcium channels open and allows calcium ions to enter. These ions trigger fusion of neurotransmitter-containing vesicles with the cellular membrane, releasing neurotransmitters into the small space

 Core: Biology
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