The basic design of a neuron

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Neuron Structure

Your brain is made of approximately 100 billion nerve cells, called neurons. Neurons have the amazing ability to gather and transmit electrochemical signals -- think of them like the gates and wires in a computer.

Neurons share the same characteristics and have the same makeup as other cells, but the electrochemical aspect lets them transmit signals over long distances (up to several feet or a few meters) and send messages to each other.

Neurons have three basic parts:

  • Cell body or soma. This main part has all of the necessary components of the cell, such as the nucleus (which contains DNA), endoplasmic reticulum and ribosomes (for building proteins) and mitochondria (for making energy). If the cell body dies, the neuron dies.
  • Axon . This long, cablelike projection of the cell carries the electrochemical message (nerve impulse or action potential) along the length of the cell. Depending upon the type of neuron, axons can be covered with a thin layer of myelin sheath, like an insulated electrical wire. Myelin is made of fat and protein, and it helps to speed transmission of a nerve impulse down a long axon. Myelinated neurons are typically found in the peripheral nerves (sensory and motor neurons), while non-myelinated neurons are found in the brain and spinal cord.
  • Dendrites or nerve endings. These small, branchlike projections of the cell make connections to other cells and allow the neuron to talk with other cells or perceive the environment. Dendrites can be located on one or both ends of a cell.