Understanding neurons is a large part of what Neuroscience research is all about. Neurons are complex cells found only in the nervous system. They have many properties that set them apart from other cell types including the ones listed below.

Action Potentials

The Electric Brain

An action potential is an electric pulse that travels down the length of a neuron and, if it reaches the synapse, causes the release of chemicals to send a signal to the next neuron. If the synapse is excitatory then once the receiving neuron gets enough messages from the sending neuron, it fires its own action potential, forwarding the message to the next neuron. If the synapse is inhibitory then the messages sent to the receiving neuron say to do nothing, thereby inhibiting an action potential… and this is how everything in the brain happens!

The Synapse

Where Communication Happens

Synapses are the meeting points where neurons communicate with each other. The neurons aren’t physically connected, though — instead, there’s a space between them (the “synaptic cleft”) where chemicals are released by one neuron and detected by the next neuron.

Synaptic Plasticity

Changing How Neurons Connect

At any synapse there is always one neuron sending a signal and one neuron receiving it. Synapses can strengthen or weaken depending on the amount and type of communication that happens at them. The ability to change the strength of synapses is called synaptic plasticity.