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By the end of this section, you will be able to:
  • Identify the basic parts of a neuron
  • Describe how neurons communicate with each other
  • Explain how drugs act as agonists or antagonists for a given neurotransmitter system

Psychologists striving to understand the human mind may study the nervous system. Learning how the cells and organs (like the brain) function, help us understand the biological basis behind human psychology. The nervous system is composed of two basic cell types: glial cells (also known as glia) and neurons. Glial cells, which outnumber neurons ten to one, are traditionally thought to play a supportive role to neurons, both physically and metabolically. Glial cells provide scaffolding on which the nervous system is built, help neurons line up closely with each other to allow neuronal communication, provide insulation to neurons, transport nutrients and waste products, and mediate immune responses. Neurons , on the other hand, serve as interconnected information processors that are essential for all of the tasks of the nervous system. This section briefly describes the structure and function of neurons.

Neuron structure

Neurons are the central building blocks of the nervous system, 100 billion strong at birth. Like all cells, neurons consist of several different parts, each serving a specialized function ( [link] ). A neuron’s outer surface is made up of a semipermeable membrane    . This membrane allows smaller molecules and molecules without an electrical charge to pass through it, while stopping larger or highly charged molecules.

An illustration shows a neuron with labeled parts for the cell membrane, dendrite, cell body, axon, and terminal buttons. A myelin sheath covers part of the neuron.
This illustration shows a prototypical neuron, which is being myelinated.

The nucleus of the neuron is located in the soma    , or cell body. The soma has branching extensions known as dendrites . The neuron is a small information processor, and dendrites serve as input sites where signals are received from other neurons. These signals are transmitted electrically across the soma and down a major extension from the soma known as the axon    , which ends at multiple terminal buttons . The terminal buttons contain synaptic vesicles that house neurotransmitters , the chemical messengers of the nervous system.

Axons range in length from a fraction of an inch to several feet. In some axons, glial cells form a fatty substance known as the myelin sheath    , which coats the axon and acts as an insulator, increasing the speed at which the signal travels. The myelin sheath is crucial for the normal operation of the neurons within the nervous system: the loss of the insulation it provides can be detrimental to normal function. To understand how this works, let’s consider an example. Multiple sclerosis (MS), an autoimmune disorder, involves a large-scale loss of the myelin sheath on axons throughout the nervous system. The resulting interference in the electrical signal prevents the quick transmittal of information by neurons and can lead to a number of symptoms, such as dizziness, fatigue, loss of motor control, and sexual dysfunction. While some treatments may help to modify the course of the disease and manage certain symptoms, there is currently no known cure for multiple sclerosis.

Questions & Answers

what is the meaning of an idiosyncratic pattern
Krystle Reply
I am here for the first time just here to learn...
michael Reply
hi I'm new on here first time
Lisa
hello
GOPAL
hi,am new here
jennifer
what is this group all about
jennifer
Suppose an individual with OCD experiences obsessive thoughts about germs, contamination, and disease whenever she encounters a doorknob. What might have constituted a viable unconditioned stimulus? 
la Reply
What are factors that influence learning?
Enos Reply
Environment Heredity(I am not sure about heredity)
Tusita
Helpful. .. thanks
Enos
Sure, anytime
Tusita
I have other questions also
Enos
Based on the factors affecting learning, how do we improve learning
Enos
I think that addressing that everyone learns in their own time
James
Peer group influence can also be another reason
Sorie
Also knowing what's going on at home. what pressure are the parents putting on them.
James
am I close or no
James
also is there a lack of care? going one more step. with peer groups do an activity that shows how much they have in common
James
under what schedule of reinforcement do animals learn from ?
Phelisa Reply
the role of emotional intelligence in a courtship behavior
Caren Reply
1
describe the task and roles of industrial psychologist in solving the problems
Solomzi Reply
hi I'm Vaishnavi and I'm new to psychology:)
Vaishnavi Reply
what is motivation
Muhammad Reply
getting passionate about something and strive for success
Leanne
observation and method based
Winter Reply
the meaning of science
Winter
soul is the Greek word for psyche
Winter
psychology is scientific research of the human brain.
Winter
Psychology is a study of human mind and behaviour
Vaishnavi
psychology is a social science which aim at studying the mind as it affect the behavior of an individual.
Prince
write and explain four psychosexual stages of personality development
MPHID Reply
I'm asking on behalf of someone How can a guy get over his weakness for girls? Like the person have soft spot for every girl and he thinks he love them then suddenly stuff change.... Like a switch
Ajayi Reply
yes
Beverly
whats the age of the boy?
Beverly
16 or 17
Ajayi
lol. it gets over with time. it's not something that can be changed instantly. and for teenagers.. anyone of opposite sex is a tasty lollipop.
Alex
yes in time it will go away but could also take years
Beverly
maybe because he doesn't really have mind of making decisions at the moment on what he need and what he doesn't want
Nwokwu
maybe he's trying to find someone to love because he's either lacked loved and feel that's the only way to feel loved or he's lonely and feels a girl can make it better . either he's got deal with the core issue
Jonan
its natural. I think it should be like this. girls also have weakness toward guys. but you can overcome on few things like concept of beauty. first step is realisation which will grow in you. also discipline help in these things.
Sujeet
what are cluster A disease?
Saee Reply
because psychology is a natural science as well as a science. it's a interdisciplinary subject
Kamakshi Reply
yes absolutely we cabt out Psychology completely into science dur to its various measuring aspects
utkarsh
cannot* put*
utkarsh
Assess the relationship between heredity and environment in human development
Newman Reply

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Source:  OpenStax, Psychology. OpenStax CNX. Feb 03, 2015 Download for free at https://legacy.cnx.org/content/col11629/1.5
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