ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

What is a Neuron?

Updated on March 12, 2014

How are neurons similar to other body-cells?

There are a few similarities between cells in your body and the specialized neuron cell.

  • Both are surrounded by a cell membrane. This acts as a wall between the cell's inside world and what's going on outside. Cells now need a way (signals) to transmit information between these 2 worlds.
  • Both contain a nucleus which contains genes.
  • Contain organelles, such as mitochondria.
  • Both carry out basic cell functions and processes such as energy production.

The Basics of a Neuron

Cells: Cells are the basic building blocks of life, making up all organisms. Cells come in a form that is discrete or distinct and therefore distinguishable and recognizable. Cells regulate what messages are transmitted and received across their membrane, maintain their own health and replicate.

Nervous system: Some cells are specialized. The human body itself is made up of trillions of cells. Cells in the nervous system can also be called nerve cells or more commonly, neurons.

The nervous system is a network or nerve cells and fibers which transmit nerve impulses between parts of the body. Nerve impulses is a way to transmit signals across this network- think of an electrical impulse.

Simple diagram of a neuron
Simple diagram of a neuron | Source
A network of nerve cells.
A network of nerve cells. | Source

Anatomy of a Neuron

Above is a very simple diagram of a neuron. Important features of the anatomy of a neuron include:

  • Nucleus
  • Dendrites
  • Axon
  • Soma
  • Axon Terminals

Although not included in the diagram, some of the longer axons are covered with something called myelin sheath that is also important to examine.

Soma and the Nucleus:

A typical neuron has a few specialized structures that sets it apart from other cells. The main bulk of the neuron cell is called the soma or the cell body. The cell body or the soma contains the nucleus. The nucleus contains genetic material in the form of chromosomes.


As we can see from the anatomy of a neuron diagram, there are several extensions extending from the soma. These are called dendrites. These often look like branches or spikes extending from the cell body. Dendrites bring electrical impulses to the cell body. You can think of dendrites as signal receivers or relate it to computer science and recognize a dendrite simply as an input. This is how the cell receives information.

Axon and Axon Terminals:

Sometimes indistinguishable from a dendrite, the axon extends outward from the cell body and acts as a way for the cell body to transmit the signal or information away from the cell body. A collection of axons grouped together is called a nerve.

The axon terminals can be thought of as transmitters of the electrical signal or information. Relating this back to computer science, the axon terminals can be thought of as outputs.

Myelin Sheath:

Myelin sheath is needed for longer axons. Myelin is made by Shwann's cells (principal glia) and consists of about 70% to 80% fat and with the remaining percentage consisting of protein. This sheath coats and insulates the axon, with periodic breaks where the nodes of Ranvier are located. This allows for the transmission of the signal to be sped up


This is another term that is useful to be familiar with that was introduced in the myelin sheath section. Neurons are a specialized type of cell of the nervous system- but not the sole cell type. Glia are another type of cell of the nervous system. These are non-neuronal cells that maintain homeostasis, produce myelin as mentioned before and importantly provides support and protection for the neurons in the brain and nervous system.

Khan Academy- Neurons

Types of Neurons

There are several types of neurons that are classified by the location of where they transmit information.

  • Sensory (Afferent) Neurons: These are the neurons which respond to stimuli. This stimuli includes that which comes in through our sense such as (but not limited to) hearing, seeing, tasting or smelling. This external stimuli is converted from an organism's environment, and reacts by producing an internal stimuli.
  • Motor (Efferent) Neurons: These are the neurons located in the central nervous system or CNS. The axons of motoneurons are projected outside of the CNS to control muscles- directly or indirectly. The signals are received from the brain and spinal cord causing muscle contractions.
  • Interneurons: These neurons connect neurons together (with other neurons) within the same region in neural networks- so location is important. Interneurons aren't motor or sensory types of neurons.

Neuron Signal Transmission Speed

view quiz statistics

Classifying Neurons

Neurons can be classified based on the direction of their output signal, as discussed in the previous section. Neurons can also be classified by the number of extensions that come out of the cell body.

There are:

  • Bipolar Neurons: These neurons have two processes (extensions) from the cell body. For instance the retinal cells.
  • Pseudounipolar Neurons: These neurons have two axons as opposed to an axon and a dendrite. The axons extend toward the spinal cord and the skin/muscles.
  • Multipolar Neurons: These neurons have many processes extending from the soma. However, there is only one axon involved.

Firing Neurons with BioTechniques

Ted Talk- Michael Merzenich: Growning evidence of brain plasticity


The word "neuroplasticity" tells us a lot about the meaning of the word. Neuroplasticity deals with how plastic or malleable the brain is. Yes- we are capable of changing our brains! This is a newly accepted idea that used to be widely rejected. Until around the 1970s, the idea that the nervous system was fixed through adulthood was accepted across the neuroscience community.

Although proposed in the late 1700's and again in the late 1800's, it wasn't until Karl Lashley in 1973 demonstrated changes in neuronal pathways that this idea became more accepted in the neuroscience community. This term refers to the changes in neural pathways and synapses. These changes can come from changes in our environments, behavior, neural processes or from injuries to our body. Neuroplasticity occurs on different levels from some cellular changes to large changes that you can obtain from injury. The power of rewiring our brains is in our hands.

Quick Summary

  • Neurons are specialized cells of the nervous system
  • Glia cells are also cells of the nervous system
  • Neurons can be classified by direction of the output and and the number of extensions
  • Neuroplasticity is a term that describes the brain as malleable or changeable.

For Further Information

Here are some free, useful, content-rich resources that you have access to on neuroscience and neurobiology:

There is a plethora of resources available to you online. If you need help finding something specific, please ask and leave some comments below!


Submit a Comment
  • itsaetos profile image

    Ayush Mishra 

    6 years ago

    Good work!


This website uses cookies

As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

Show Details
HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)