Learning Objectives

Describe the framework and role of neuronsInterpret an activity potential graph and explain the molecular mechanisms underlying each action of the activity potentialDescribe the structure and function of neuronal synapses and also the role of neurotransmitters in ~ the synapseNeurons and Glial Cells

The information listed below was adjusted from OpenStax Biology 35.1 and khan Academy AP Biology The neuron and also nervous system. All cannes Academy contents is accessible for complimentary at www.khanacademy.org

The nervous device is consisted of of neurons, the committed cells that have the right to receive and also transmit chemical or electric signals, and also glia, the cells that carry out support functions for the neurons. A neuron deserve to be compared to an electric wire: the transmits a signal indigenous one location to another. Glia can be contrasted to the employees at the electric firm who make certain wires walk to the right places, preserve the wires, and also take under wires that are broken. Current evidence says that glia may also assist in some of the signaling functions of neurons.

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Neurons connect via both electrical signals and chemical signals. The electric signals are action potentials, i m sorry transmit the info from among a neuron to the other; the chemical signal are neurotransmitters, i m sorry transmit the info from one neuron to the next. An activity potential is a rapid, temporary change in membrane potential (electrical charge), and it is resulted in by sodium rushing come a neuron and potassium rushing out. Neurotransmitters room chemical messengers which are released from one neuron together a result of an action potential; they cause a rapid, temporary change in the membrane potential the the surrounding neuron come initiate an activity potential in the neuron.

Parts that a Neuron

Like other cells, each neuron has actually a cell body (or soma) that includes a nucleus and other cellular components. Neurons additionally contain unique structures, dendrites and axons, for receiving and sending the electrical signals the make neuronal communication possible:

Dendrites: are tree-like frameworks that extend away native the cell body to get neurotransmitters from other neurons. Some types of neurons carry out not have any type of dendrites, some types of neurons have actually multiple dendrites. Dendrites deserve to have small protrusions called dendritic spines, which more increase surface area for possible connections with various other neurons.Synapses: Dendrites obtain signals from other neurons at dedicated junctions referred to as synapses. Over there is a small gap between two synapsed neurons, wherein neurotransmitters are released from one neuron to happen the signal come the next neuron.Axon hillock: Once a signal is obtained by the dendrite, it then travels to the cabinet body. The cell body has a committed structure, the axon hillock the “integrates” signal from many synapses and also serves together a junction between the cabinet body and also an axon.Axon: An axon is a tube-like framework that propagates the integrated signal to committed endings referred to as axon terminals. The axon dead the action potential to the following neuron. Neurons usually have actually one or 2 axons. Some axons space covered through myelin, i m sorry acts together an insulator to minimization dissipation the the electric signal together it travels under the axon, greatly increasing the speed on conduction. This insulation is crucial as the axon from a human motor neuron deserve to be as lengthy as a meter, indigenous the base of the spine come the toes. The myelin sheath is not actually component of the neuron, and also is developed by glial cells. Along the axon over there are periodic gaps in the myelin sheath called nodes that Ranvier, which are sites where the signal is “re-charged” as it travels follow me the axon.

Neurons save organelles common to countless other cells, such together a nucleus and also mitochondria. They additionally have more devoted structures, consisting of dendrites and axons. Image credit: OpenStax Biology

It is important to keep in mind that a solitary neuron does not act alone: neuronal communication depends top top the connections that neurons make through one one more (as well just like other cells, choose muscle cells). Dendrites indigenous a single neuron may receive synaptic call from countless other neurons. For example, dendrites from a neurons in the cerebellum the the mind are believed to receive call from as plenty of as 200,000 other neurons.


While glia are regularly thought of together the supporting cast of the nervous system, the number of glial cells in the brain actually outnumbers the variety of neurons by a element of ten. Neurons would be can not to duty without the vital roles that space fulfilled by this glial cells. Glia guide occurring neurons to your destinations, buffer ions and also chemicals that would otherwise harm neurons, provide myelin sheaths roughly axons, and modulate communication between nerve cells. As soon as glia perform not function properly, the an outcome can be disastrous; most brain tumors are resulted in by mutations in glia.

There are several different varieties of glia with different functions. They include:

Astrocytes: provide nutrients and also other substances come neurons, control the concentrations of ions and also chemicals in the extracellular fluid, and carry out structural assistance for synapses; also form the blood-brain barrier, which blocks entrance of toxic substances into the brain.Satellite glia: nutrients and also structural support for neurons in the peripheral nervous device (PNS).Microglia: immune cells of the central nervous mechanism (CNS); scavenge and also degrade dead cells and also protect the mind from invading microorganisms.Oligodendrocytes: form myelin sheaths about axons in the CNS; one axon can be myelinated by number of oligodendrocytes, and one oligodendrocyte can provide myelin for multiple neurons.Schwann cells: form myelin sheaths about axons in the PNS; uneven oligodendrocytes, a single Schwann cell offers myelin for only one axon together the whole Schwann cabinet surrounds the axon.Ependymal cells: line fluid-filled ventricles of the brain and the central canal the the spinal cord; aid circulate cerebrospinal fluid, i m sorry serves together a cushion because that the brain.

Glial cells assistance neurons and also maintain your environment. Glial cell of the (a) main nervous system incorporate oligodendrocytes, astrocytes, ependymal cells, and microglial cells. Oligodendrocytes type the myelin sheath about axons. Astrocytes administer nutrients come neurons, keep their extracellular environment, and administer structural support. Microglia scavenge pathogens and dead cells. Ependymal cells create cerebrospinal liquid that cushions the neurons. Glial cell of the (b) peripheral concerned system encompass Schwann cells, which kind the myelin sheath, and also satellite cells, which provide nutrients and also structural support to neurons. Photo credit: OpenStax Biology

Communication in between Neurons

The information below was adapted from OpenStax biologic 35.2 and OpenStax Anatomy & Physiology 3.1

All features performed through the nervous device – indigenous a straightforward motor reflex to much more advanced functions like making a memory or a decision – require neurons to connect with one another. While human beings use words and also body language come communicate, neurons use electrical and also chemical signals. Just like a human in a committee, one neuron usually receives and synthesizes message from multiple other neurons prior to “making the decision” come send the blog post on to various other neurons.

Neurons interact via both electrical and chemical signals. A neuron receives input from other neurons and, if this entry is solid enough, the neuron will send the signal to downstream neurons. Infection of a signal between neurons is generally lugged by a chemical dubbed a neurotransmitter. Infection of a signal within a neuron (from dendrite come axon terminal) is brought by a brief reversal that the resting membrane potential dubbed an action potential. This interaction is feasible because every neuron has actually a fee cellular membrane (a voltage difference in between the inside and the outside), and also the charge of this membrane can change in solution to neurotransmitter molecules released from various other neurons and environmental stimuli. The three basic phenomena required for communication in between neurons are:

Resting potential: the membrane potential (electrical charge) in a neuron the is not currently transmitting a signalAction potential: a quick depolarizaiton (reduction in magnitude of the charge) along the neuron’s axon; action potentials are all-or-nothing (they carry out not have degrees of magnitude)Neurotransmitters: the chemistry messengers that interact between adjacent neurons; release of neurotransmitters native one neuron will certainly either aid depolarize or hyperpolarize (increase the magnitude of the charge) the adjacent neuron, do an activity potential either more or much less likely to take place in the following neuron

We’ll discuss each of this three materials in turn.

1. The relaxing Potential

The lipid bilayer membrane that surrounds a neuron is impermeable to fee molecules or ions. To get in or leave the neuron, ions have to pass v special proteins dubbed ion networks that expectations the membrane and regulate the relative concentrations of different ions inside and outside the cell. Cells have the right to use energy to preferentially move specific ions either inside or exterior of the membrane, setup up a distinction in ion charge across the membrane, whereby one side is relatively much more negative and the various other side is relatively more positive. The difference in total charge between the inside and outside that the cabinet is called the membrane potential.

The membrane potential the a neuron at rest is negative charged: the inside of a cabinet is roughly 70 millivolts much more negative than the exterior (-70 mV, keep in mind that this number different by neuron kind and through species). This voltage is referred to as the resting membrane potential; that is brought about by differences in the concentration of ion inside and outside the cell. The relaxing potential is established and also maintained by two main processes: an ATP-powered ion channel referred to as the sodium-potassium pump, and also a passive ion channel referred to as the potassium leak channel.

The sodium-potassium pump, i beg your pardon is likewise called Na+/K+ ATPase, transports salt out the a cabinet while moving potassium right into the cell. The Na+/K+ pump is vital ion pump found in the membrane of many species of cells. This pumps are particularly abundant in nerve cells, which are constantly pumping out sodium ions and also pulling in potassium ion to preserve an electrical gradient throughout their cell membranes. An electric gradient is a distinction in electrical charge across a space. In the case of nerve cells, because that example, the electric gradient exists in between the inside and also outside the the cell, through the inside being negatively-charged (at roughly -70 mV) relative to the outside. The negative electrical gradient is maintained because each Na+/K+ pump moves three Na+ ions out that the cell and two K+ ions right into the cell because that each ATP molecule the is used. This process is so vital for nerve cells that it accounts for the bulk of your ATP usage.

Powered by ATP, the sodium-potassium pump move sodium and potassium ion in the contrary directions, each versus its concentration gradient. In a single cycle that the pump, 3 sodium ions room extruded from and two potassium ions space imported into the cell. Picture credit: OpenStax Anatomy & Physiology.

In enhancement to the sodium potassium pump, neurons possess potassium leak channels and sodium leak channels that permit the 2 cations to diffuse under their concentration gradient. However, the neurons have actually far more potassium leakage networks than sodium leakage channels. Therefore, potassium diffuses out of the cell at a much faster rate 보다 sodium leaks in. Because much more cations are leaving the cell than space entering, this reasons the internal of the cabinet to be negatively charged loved one to the exterior of the cell. Hence the an unified effects the the sodium-potassium pump and the potassium leak networks is that the internal of the cell is more negative than the external of the cell. That should likewise be detailed that chloride ion (Cl–) tend to accumulate external of the cell since they are repelled through negatively-charged proteins in ~ the cytoplasm.

The relaxing membrane potential is a an outcome of different concentrations inside and outside the cell.Ion Concentration Inside and Outside NeuronsIonExtracellular concentration (mM)Intracellular concentration (mM)Ratio outside/inside
Organic anions (A-)100

This video clip describes the role of the sodium/potassium pump and also potassium leak channels in establishing and maintaining the membrane relaxing potential:

2. The activity Potential

When we talk around neurons “firing” or being “active,” we’re talking around the action potential: a brief, positive change in the membrane potential along a neuron’s axon. As soon as an action potential occurs, the neuron sends the signal to the following neuron in the communication chain, and, if an activity potential additionally occurs in the following neuron, then the signal will proceed being sent . What causes an action potential? when a neuron obtain a signal from an additional neuron (in the kind of neurotransmitters, for most neurons), the signal reasons a change in the membrane potential on the receiving neuron. The signal reasons opening or closeup of the door of voltage-gated ion channels, channels that open or nearby in an answer to alters in the membrane voltage. The opening of voltage-gated ion channels reasons the membrane to undergo one of two people a hyperpolarization, wherein the membrane potential boosts in magnitude (becomes more negative) or a depolarization, where the membrane potential to reduce in magnitude (becomes much more positive). Even if it is the membrane experience a hyperpolarization or a depolarization relies on the form of voltage-gated ion channel the opened.

Not all depolarizations result in an activity potential. The signal must reason a depolarization that is big enough in size to get rid of the threshold potential, or the particular voltage that the membrane have to reach for an an activity potential come occur. The threshold potential is usually around -55 mV, contrasted to the resting potential of about -70 mV. If the threshold potential is reached, then an activity potential is initiated in ~ the axon hillock in the following stages:

Depolarization: voltage-gated sodium channels open quickly after depolarization past the threshold potential. As sodium rushes right into the axon (influx), the inside becomes relatively electrically hopeful (approximately +30 mV, compared to the initial relaxing potential the apprximately -70 mV).Repolarization: quickly after the early stage depolarization, the voltage-gated sodium channels close and remain close up door (and cannot be opened) for around 1-2 milliseconds. Voltage-gated potassium networks then open, enabling potassium come rush the end of the axon (efflux), leading to the membrane come repolarize (become much more negative).Hyperpolarizaton: potassium proceeds leaving the axon to the allude that the membrane potential dips listed below the normal resting potential. Sodium channels return to their resting state, definition they are prepared to open up again if the membrane potential again above the threshold potential.Reset relaxing potential: The sodium-potassium pump and potassium leak networks reset the places of sodium and also potassium ions, reestablishing the membrane potential to permit another activity potential to fire.

These measures are depicted here:


The formation of an action potential have the right to be divided into five steps: (1) A stimulus from a sensory cabinet or an additional neuron causes the target cell to depolarize toward the threshold potential. (2) If the threshold the excitation is reached, every Na+ channels open and the membrane depolarizes. (3) at the peak action potential, K+ networks open and also K+ begins to leave the cell. In ~ the exact same time, Na+ channels close. (4) The membrane becomes hyperpolarized as K+ ions continue to leaving the cell. The hyperpolarized membrane is in a refractory duration and cannot fire. (5) The K+ networks close and the Na+/K+ transporter restores the resting potential. Photo credit: OpenStax Biology.

There room a few important universal attributes of action potentials:

Action potentials constantly proceed in one direction only, from the cell human body (soma) come the synapse(s) in ~ the finish of the axon. Action potentials never walk backward, due to the refractory period that the voltage-gated ion channels, whereby the networks cannot re-open because that a period of 1-2 milliseconds after they have actually closed. The refractory period forces the action potential to travel just in one direction.Action potentials do not differ in magnitude or speed; they are “all-or-nothing.” When a provided neuron fires, the action potential constantly depolarizes to the exact same magnitude and constantly travels in ~ the very same speed follow me the axon. Over there is no such point as a enlarge or faster activity potential. The parameter that have the right to vary is the frequency of action potentials, or exactly how many action potentials happen in a provided amount the time.

The video below provides a conversation of voltage-gated ion channels:

Here is a more detailed discussion of the activity potential trace:

And summary of action potential propagation:

As listed above, the size or speed of the activity potential for a offered neuron never varies; however, some neurons have faster activity potentials than others. In invertebrates, this difference is often because of axon diameter, where bigger axons have quicker conduction of action potentials. In vertebrates, this distinction is generally due come myelination that the neuron’s axon. Myelin acts together an insulator that avoids current native leaving the axon; this rises the speed of activity potential conduction. The nodes the Ranvier, depicted below, room gaps in the myelin sheath along the axon. These unmyelinated spaces are about one micrometer long and contain voltage gated Na+ and K+ channels. Flow of ions with these channels, an especially the Na+ channels, regenerates the action potential over and also over again along the axon. This “jumping” of the activity potential indigenous one node come the next is referred to as saltatory conduction. Nodes of Ranvier also save energy for the neuron since the networks only have to be existing at the nodes and also not along the entire axon.


Nodes that Ranvier are gaps in myelin coverage follow me axons. Nodes save on computer voltage-gated K+ and also Na+ channels. Action potentials take trip down the axon through jumping native one node come the next. Photo credit: OpenStax Biology

3. The chemistry Synapse and Neurotransmitters

Neurons are not in straight physical contact with each other, yet instead come into an extremely close proximity at a structure dubbed the synapse. The neuron sending a signal to the following is referred to as the presynaptic neuron, and also the neuron receiving a signal is referred to as the postsynaptic neuron, displayed here:

Chemical transmission involves release of chemical messengers known as neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters carry information from the pre-synaptic (sending) neuron to the post-synaptic (receiving) cell. Picture credit: cannes Academy https://www.khanacademy.org/science/biology/ap-biology/human-biology/neuron-nervous-system/a/the-synapse

There is a little gap between the two neurons dubbed the synaptic cleft, where neurotransmitters are exit by the presynaptic neuron to transmit the signal come the postsynaptic neuron, displayed here:


Inside the axon terminal that a sending cell are countless synaptic vesicles. These are membrane-bound spheres filled through neurotransmitter molecules. There is a small gap in between the axon terminal the the presynaptic neuron and the membrane of the postsynaptic cell, and this void is dubbed the synaptic cleft. Picture credit: cannes Academy https://www.khanacademy.org/science/biology/ap-biology/human-biology/neuron-nervous-system/a/the-synapse

How does synaptic transmission work? once the activity potential will the finish of the axon, the propagates right into the pre-synaptic terminal wherein the following occasions occur in sequence:

The activity potential depolarizes the membrane and opens voltage-gated Na+ channels. Na+ ions go into the cell, further depolarizing the presynaptic membrane.This depolarization causes voltage-gated Ca2+ (calcium) channels to open up in the presynaptic neuron, allowing calcium ions to enter the presynaptic neuron in ~ the synpase.Calcium ions entering the presynaptic neuron cabinet initiate a signaling cascade the causes tiny membrane-bound vesicles, referred to as synaptic vesicles, to fuse v the presynaptic membrane. The synaptic vesicles save on computer neurotransmitter molecules.Fusion that a vesicle through the presynaptic membrane causes neurotransmitter to be released into the synaptic cleft, the extracellular space between the presynaptic and also postsynaptic membranes. The neurotransmitter diffuses across the synaptic cleft and binds to receptor protein on the postsynaptic membrane.

This procedure is depicted below:


Communication at chemistry synapses needs release of neurotransmitters. As soon as the presynaptic membrane is depolarized, voltage-gated Ca2+ channels open and enable Ca2+ to go into the cell. The calcium entry reasons synaptic vesicles to fuse with the membrane and also release neurotransmitter molecules right into the synaptic cleft. The neurotransmitter diffuses across the synaptic cleft and also binds to ligand-gated ion networks in the postsynaptic membrane, causing a localized depolarization or hyperpolarization that the postsynaptic neuron. Image credit: khan Academy https://www.khanacademy.org/science/biology/ap-biology/human-biology/neuron-nervous-system/a/the-synapse

Excitatory postsynaptic potentials (EPSPs) do a postsynaptic neuron more likely come fire an action potential. Because that example, when acetylcholine is released at the synapse in between a nerve and muscle (called the neuromuscular junction) by a presynaptic neuron, it reasons postsynaptic Na+ channels to open. Na+ beginning the postsynaptic cell and also causes the postsynaptic membrane come depolarize.Inhibitory postsynaptic potentials (IPSPs) do a postsynaptic neuron less likely to fire an activity potential. For example, as soon as the neurotransmitter GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) is exit from a presynaptic neuron, it binding to and opens Cl– channels. Cl– ions enter the cell and hyperpolarizes the membrane.

Once neurotransmission has occurred, the neurotransmitter have to be gotten rid of from the synaptic cleft so the postsynaptic membrane can “reset” and be prepared to receive an additional signal. This deserve to be achieved in three ways:

the neurotransmitter deserve to diffuse far from the synaptic cleftthe neurotransmitter deserve to be degraded by enzyme in the synaptic cleftthe neurotransmitter can be recycle (sometimes called reuptake) by the presynaptic neuron.

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This video clip walks with the procedure of signal communication across a chemistry synapse:

While action potentials space “all-or-nothing,” as listed above, EPSPs and also IPSPs space graded; they vary in magnitude of depolarization or hyperpolarization, as depicted below:

Graded potentials room temporary transforms in the membrane voltage, the attributes of which count on the size of the stimulus. Some species of stimuli reason depolarization the the membrane, vice versa, others cause hyperpolarization. It depends on the specific ion channels that space activated in the cabinet membrane. Image credit: OpenStax Anatomy & Physiology

Often a single EPSP is not strong enough to induce an activity potential in the postsynaptic neuron top top its own, and also multiple presynaptic entry must create EPSPs roughly the very same time for the postsynaptic neuron come be sufficiently depolarized to fire an action potential. This procedure is referred to as summation and wake up at the axon hillock, as illustrated below. In addition, every neuron regularly has inputs from plenty of presynaptic neuron – part excitatory and also some inhibitory – for this reason IPSPs deserve to cancel the end EPSPs and also vice versa. It is the net change in postsynaptic membrane voltage that determines whether the postsynaptic cell has actually reached the threshold of excitation required to fire an action potential. Together, synaptic summation and the threshold because that excitation act as a filter so the random “noise” in the device is not transmitted as essential information.


A solitary neuron can receive both excitatory and inhibitory inputs native multiple neurons, leading to local membrane depolarization (EPSP input) and also hyperpolarization (IPSP input). Every these input are included together at the axon hillock. If the EPSPs are solid enough to overcome the IPSPs and reach the threshold of excitation, the neuron will fire. Photo credit: OpenStax Biology

This video, included after the IKE to be opened, provides summary of summation in time and also space:

Here room two final videos to aid you put this all together (in a more engaging method than any of the videos above). Note that this videos execute not carry out any new information, yet they may help you far better integrate all the details previously discussed: