Level 3 Unit 1 Part 01: Introduction to neural cell types

The word neural and the prefix neuro- refer to the nervous system, and neural cells are cells of the nervous system. Neural cells work with all the other cells of the body to produce the amazing range of functions of the nervous system, including consciousness, social interactions, cognition, emotion, movement, sensory perception, and regulation of other functions such as circulation, respiration, and digestion.

Neural cells are divided into neurons, which were traditionally called nerve cells, and several other cell types that are collectively called glia, neuroglia, or glial cells. Neurons are named from a Greek word for nerve. Glia are named from a Greek word for glue, because they were once thought to do little except to glue neurons together, but we now know they do much more than that.

The structure of the nervous system is divided into one part called the central nervous system, which is mainly composed of the brain and the spinal cord, and another part called the peripheral nervous system, which is mainly composed of the nerves.

More on neuroanatomy later. Calling neurons nerve cells is problematic because nerves contain not only neurons, but also glia and non-neural cells. Neurons are in both the central and peripheral nervous systems, but the different types of glia are only in one or the other.

Most types of neurons and glia share the structural features of having a main part of their cell, called the soma or cell body, and thin processes extending out from the soma. The soma contains the nucleus and most of the organelles. The processes of the different neural cells vary in number, length, thickness, degree of branching, terminal structures, and function.

The function of neurons is to process and transmit information, and the function of glia is to support them in a variety of ways. There are many structural and functional types of both neurons and glia. There are billions of neurons forming trillions of connections in the adult human nervous system, and there are even more glia than there are neurons. The most common types of glia are astrocytes, microglia, ependymal cells, oligodendrocytes, and Schwann cells.


Level 3 Unit 1 Part 2: Overview of neuron structure

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