Reference Work Entry

Encyclopedia of Neuroscience

pp 2764-2768

Neuron: Structure/Function, Cellular/Molecular

  • Naweed I. SyedAffiliated withDepartment of Physiology & Biophysics, University of Washington School of MedicineDepartment of Cell Biology and Anatomy, Hotchkiss Brain Institute, University of Calgary


Neuron – a late nineteenth century Greek term, refers to highly specialized “nerve cells” that conduct electrical impulses (Action potential). This innate propensity to generate and conduct electrical potentials is a unique hallmark of all “excitable cells” of which the neurons are the most specialized. A neuron exhibits a highly complex repertoire of specialized membranous structures, embedded Ion channels, second messengers, genetic and epigenetic elements and unique complements of various proteins such as the receptors. A “synapse,” which is the functional building block of all communicating neurons, refers to the juxtaposed point of contact between two excitable cells. As the nerve impulse invades the “presynaptic terminal,” it elicits the release of chemical messenger/s – the neurotransmitter​ into the synaptic cleft. The diffused chemical neurotransmitter substance, such as dopamine, Serotonin or a proteineous peptide (substance P for example) then binds to its ...

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