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What Is A Neuron? Getting to Know The Biology Of Biowars

Sensurian — the Biowars representation of a neuron

The human body is made up of trillions of cells, but a certain hierarchy exists in their level of importance.

From white and red blood cells to bone and skin cells, every one of these microscopic wonders team up to not only keep your systems running as efficiently as possible, but also to give your body the ability to run, touch, taste, see and a whole lot more.

However, one such cell is of the utmost importance to your BioCosmos — the neuron.

What is a neuron, you might ask?

For starters, it’s one of the most essential ingredients for getting almost all cells in your body to communicate and collaborate with each other effectively.

Neurons are as complex as they are exciting — so let’s dive right in and find out why they are so important!

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What Is A Neuron?

Neurons are a complex bunch. As the primary components of your central nervous system (among other systems), neurons span the entire human body in the billions and help your brain communicate with the rest of your body.

While it may sound unbelievable, your brain houses nearly 86 billion specialized neurons alone, each of them playing a part in carrying messages to various parts of your body to ensure it functions properly.

Every time you use a muscle, you know that a message was sent from your brain through your nervous system to make the muscle contract.

Your neurons also take care of the automatic functions happening inside your body as well, which means making sure your heart keeps beating, your lungs continue breathing, and your other organs are doing their jobs effectively.

The Different Types Of Neurons

The different types of neurons are usually categorized by the functions they serve in your body. Let’s take a look.

#1: Afferent Neurons

Also known as sensory neurons, these neurons are responsible for your senses, such as:

  • Sight
  • Hearing
  • Taste
  • Smell
  • Feeling

Afferent neurons act as receptors that inform your brain of the physical or chemical changes in your environment.

They are precisely what allows you to tell whether something is hot or cold and enjoy the smell of freshly baked cookies.

#2: Efferent Neurons

While similar to afferent neurons in their name, efferent neurons function in a completely opposite manner.

If afferent neurons function as receptors and record the information that’s presented to them, efferent neurons are transmitters that send impulses from your brain to your organs and muscles.

This is why efferent neurons are also known as motor neurons. They are precisely what enables your body movements — voluntary and involuntary.

For example, food moves along your digestive system thanks to muscle contractions in your stomach and intestines. These contractions happen when the efferent neurons in your spinal cord signal relevant organs.

#3: Interneurons

Interneurons are the unsung heroes of your nervous system, as they enable other neurons to communicate with each other.

As their name suggests, they act as intermediaries between the neurons in the different parts of your body, your brain and your spinal cord.

In many ways, interneurons are what keeps you — and their partner, your brain — safe.

For example, if you place your hand on a hot stove, the afferent neurons in your brain will register the temperature through the nerve endings in your palm.

Then, the neurons will inform your brain of the impending danger, and your brain will react with the feeling of pain, prompting you to remove your hand as quickly as possible.

As you can imagine, these neurons are quite good at their job, as this process happens instantaneously.

But interneurons are not only responsible for recognizing danger — you can also thank them for all other types of senses your body is capable of recognizing, including the pleasant ones.

A network of neurons illustrated — image for the "What Is A Neuron" blog post

Neurons control most of your bodily functions, such as muscle movements and your basic senses

How Do Neurons Work?

Neurons are different from other cells in the body because they contain specialized parts known as dendrites and axons.

The easiest way to understand how neurons work is to picture your neurons as your email account.

Whenever you are receiving a message from someone, that means your dendrites are getting put into action, bringing in electrical signals to help your neuron complete its function. The axons then are your outgoing emails, taking electrical information away from the neuron to other parts of the body.

But how this communication happens is astounding, because it involves an electrochemical process that takes place across microscopic gaps found between your neurons, often fueled by a remarkable substance known as a neurotransmitter.

Neurotransmitters are chemicals located at the end of nerve fibers that help make the connection between a synapse or junction.

When energy is being passed from one neuron to another, your neurotransmitters transfer the impulse at an incredible speed — anywhere from 200 times per second — to get the job done.

So, the next time you’re playing basketball, video games or clicking through your Biowars comic, you know that millions of neurons are firing simultaneously to make it all possible. But keep in mind, this doesn’t necessarily mean you can blame it on your neurons if you miss the game-winning shot.

Neuron-Related Issues To Watch Out For

Of all the cells in your body, neurons tend to live the longest, though they often die off in large numbers when they migrate throughout your body and evolve into their areas of specialty.

For the most part, however, your neurons will remain healthy throughout your lifetime.

Nevertheless, there are some ways your neurons can be altered or affected in such a way that it causes problems with the way your body functions.

Some of the most common types of neurological issues include:

  • Parkinson’s Disease: When your neurons that produce dopamine (which affects your emotions, movements, and pleasure/pain sensations) die off and cause problems with mobility.
  • Huntington’s Disease: A genetic mutation that causes too much glutamate (a neurotransmitter) to be produced, killing neurons and causing uncontrollable body movements.
  • Alzheimer’s Disease: When proteins begin to build up in neurons and cause them to die, affecting both a person’s memory and their ability to perform everyday tasks.
  • Injuries: Damage caused by strokes or injuries to the spinal cord can block communication between neurons, causing them to die or become inoperable.

Yet, despite these serious issues, the good news is that modern research has discovered a lot of new treatments for those who suffer from these types of problems.

In fact, many scientists say that a cure for some of these diseases isn’t far off. Even today they’re finding ways to help people regain control over paralyzed or uncontrollable limbs by using stem cell therapies as well as other creative and innovative methods.

In your lifetime, it could become possible to repair, reshape and renew the brain and your entire nervous system within a reasonably short amount of time.

And while such technology won’t solve every issue known to affect neurons, it may be one of the biggest steps mankind has ever taken in both science and medicine.

Stem cells illustrated — image for the "What Is A Neuron" blog post

Stem cell therapy is a promising treatment for various neuron-related diseases

Wrapping Up On Neurons

The mechanics and biology of neurons are as fascinating as they are complex.

However, the essential thing you need to know without diving too deep into the complicated principles of neurology is: neurons allow your body to function the way it does.

Afferent neurons, also known as sensory neurons, enable your senses and allow you to enjoy your favorite sights, tastes and smells.

Efferent neurons or motor neurons are responsible for your body movements, such as muscle and organ contractions.

Interneurons act as a link between the billions of other neurons in your body, allowing your central nervous system to function smoothly.

And while neurons are among the toughest, longest-living cells in your body, they can be affected by disorders such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease.

The good news is that neurology is advancing at a rapid pace, and soon those disorders might become much less threatening to the well-being of your neurons — the billions of tiny cells throughout your body working overtime to make sure you’re functioning in tip-top shape!

Neurons are pretty fascinating! Share your thoughts in the comments!

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