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What are the Functions of Neurons?

If you are a medical student or studying subjects related to anatomy or physiology, you should know that neurons are the structural and functional unit of our nervous system. They are the essential part of the communication system in our brain. Neurons perform all the tasks (sending, receiving and processing) to maintain the communicative action in the nervous system. You need to know that our nervous system is surrounded by more than 100 million neurons and each neuron can receive information from thousands of different cells.

Learn more about Neurons

Basic Functions of Neurons

The basic function of a neuron is to process and transmit nerve impulses from and to the nervous system. Neurons can simultaneously receive and integrate stimuli (impulses) either from the body or other sources. They can interpret stimuli into a change in membrane potential. Using the conduction process, neurons can rapidly transmit this change in membrane potential over long distances. They can convert the action potentials (the electrical messages) into particular neurotransmitters (the chemical messages), and following the neurotransmission (or synaptic transmission) process, they also can deliver the chemical messages to target cells.

function of neurons
Image via Wikipedia

Functions of Different Types of Neurons

The sensory (afferent) neurons work as the receptionists for incoming stimuli towards the nervous system. They receive and integrate stimuli not only from the body but also from the environment. Using the conduction process, these neurons can simultaneously transmit the impulses to the central nervous system (CNS) for processing.
The interneurons or the internuntial (association) neurons are termed as the communication neurons. They work to establish connections not only between sensory and motor neurons but also between themselves. In addition, one of the major functions of these neurons is to transmit the processed impulses from the CNS to the motor neurons.
The motor (efferent) neurons transmit the nerve impulses to the effector organs (e.g. muscle tissues or glands). They control (both directly and indirectly) the movement of muscles in the body, including the movement of heart, kidney, liver, diaphragm, sexual organs and glands

Functions of Different Parts in a Neuron

Electric signal passing through neuronIf you have read my previous post (What is the Structure of Neurons), you might already know that most neurons have three distinct parts -- a cell body, an axon and multiple dendrites. Each part of a neuron performs specific roles to keep the communicative action of the nervous system active. The dendrites receive incoming impulses or electrical signals from other neurons. They also carry these signals to the processing area (the cell body) of the neuron. The cell body can simultaneously receive and integrate these signals. By interpreting these signals, the cell body generates action potential (i.e. a change in membrane potential) near the axon hillock. This action potential is then propagated along the axon as outgoing signal. When the action potential reaches axon terminals, the neurotransmission (a process by which signals send from one neuron to other neurons) begins.

You might also like:

What are Neurons?
What is the Structure of Neurons?
How does the Nervous System Work?

Published on: December 20, 2012
Last Updated: July 07, 2013

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