Level 1 Unit 1: Neural cells

The word neural, and the prefix neuro-, both refer to the nervous system, which is involved in almost every function of the body, physical as well as mental. Neural cells, which are the cells of the nervous system, are divided into two groups: neurons and glia. Some neural cells are shaped like spheres or irregular blobs, while others have a main part called the soma, or cell body, and processes, or extensions, which are attached to the soma and may have many different shapes and functions.

The function of neurons is to process and transmit incoming information, which they usually do with electrical changes of the cell membrane. Neurons contact and transmit information to other cells, which can be called their target cells, at structures called synapses. Neurons usually transmit information by releasing molecules called neurotransmitters at synapses, which then bind to receptors on the target cell membrane. The target cell of a neuron may be a muscle cell, a gland cell, or another neuron. Most neurons have shorter processes called dendrites, which usually receive incoming information, and a longer process called an axon, which usually transmits information away from the soma to endings called axon terminals that form synapses with target cells.

Glia, or glial cells, support neurons in many ways. Schwann cells and oligodendrocytes usually help neurons transmit information by wrapping an insulating material called myelin around axons, but they do so in different parts of the nervous system. Astrocytes do many things, including providing structural support, forming scar tissue after injury, and maintaining the components of the fluid between the cells in neural tissues. Microglia kill germs and abnormal neural cells, and also remove debris. Ependymal cells line certain fluid-filled cavities that are inside neural tissues. Glial cells also perform many other functions as they interact with neurons, other glial cells, and other cell types such as those in blood vessels and parts of the immune system.

Next:

Level 1 Unit 2: Functional neuroanatomy

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