How Does the Nervous System Work?
The neuron is the fundamental functioning cell of the nervous system (Fig 1). It is estimated that the human nervous system consists of hundreds of billions of neurons (Williams and Herrup 1988), and each neuron forming multiple specialized connections, called synapses, with each other as well as other cells in the body, such as muscle cells. These synapses allow the nervous system to perform the miraculous feat of communicating with each other in a way that is unique within the body of an organism. Signals are sent from one neuron to the next, as if they were talking with one another. The words from one neuron being heard by the next, culminating in a sea of conversations that allow the nervous system to orchestrate functions that range from the simple to the complex.
Figure 1. Diagram of a neuron.
Neurons are able to communicate very efficiently using their dendrites and axons (Fig 2). These projections are able to to aid in communication due to proteins that are embedded in the membrane of the cell. These proteins, called channels, allow specific ions to flow in and out of the cell resulting in an action potential, which are the words of the nervous system’s conversations. Without properly functioning ion channels, the neurons would fall silent and fail to propagate information throughout the nervous system. This website is dedicated to discussing one way in which the nervous system can be disrupted and silenced.
Figure 2. Communication between neurons