How Brains Really Work: Neurons Firing Explained!
Basic neuroscience, explained from memory.
This articles is going to explain, in mild to moderately entertaining format, the basics of how our brains work1, and how they sometimes don’t. The challenge to myself is to do it from memory.2 This is also my foray into paid content. So the idea is I’m going to write things, like this piece, which will presumably not be opinion pieces, although I will, likely, express opinions. But it’s really like more a “fun” version of a textbook of medicine, one chapter at a time. Some portion of the way through this tantalizing piece of explaining, there’s gonna be a paywall. Here’s a pro tip. If you sign up, you get to keep reading, because I’m going to auto comp you. I’m not gonna make you pay for it. Not yet anyway. It’s just gonna make you sign up for my subscription list. But eventually, behind that paywall, there’s content. Might it be that people might want because it teaches them something useful? The idea is not to make my readers want to choke on their own tongue out of sheer boredom. It is an experiment. Your feedback, as ever, is welcome.
In my last article (on the medicine Auvelity) the existence of this piece was foreshadowed. We’re gonna start from neurons, and work our way up from there, that pretty soon, you’re gonna understand science and medicine just as well as I do. And then your bull💩 antennae will be more finally tuned than they are now. You’ll also be prepared to impress your friends.
Your body has a lot of neurons in it. Most of them aren’t in your brain. That’s true. The majority of the neurons in your body are actually in your gut.3 Your intestine, particularly your small intestine, has a really important job that requires a coordinated dance of activity, called peristalsis. This is the rhythmic contraction of the smooth muscle cells of this tube in order to move food on its way. This dance is choreographed by the neurons of the enteric4 nervous system. They are the same basic nerve cells that you have in your brain, but the enteric nervous system functions largely with serotonergic neurons, this is to say that the serotonin neurotransmitter, pictured here:
It is doing it most of the talking. And will get to what that talking is in just a minute.
The Structure of a Neuron
Neurons structurally have a cell body. This is where the bulk of the machinery of any given cell lives. There are inputs to nerves, which we called dendrites. There are outputs, and usually it’s one output, although that one output can have a bunch of different endings coming off of it. So basically if you took a tulip, and laid it on its side, you’re looking at what a neuron looks like. The roots are the dendrites, information comes in from these. There is a bulb, and there is a long projection— this is called an axon —through to the flower at the end. The flower in this context is is the presynaptic terminal, and there is a post synaptic terminal on the dendrite on the other side of a gap. This little gap is called the synapse.
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