Revealing the inner workings of a molecular motor

In research published in the Journal of Cell Biology, scientists from the RIKEN Brain Science Institute in Japan have made important steps toward understanding how dynein—a "molecular motor"—walks along tube-like structures ...

Axons' unexpected cytoskeleton structure

(—The plasma membranes that give cells their shapes are typically upheld by linear meshworks of the protein actin. In contrast, Howard Hughes Medical Institute scientists have now discovered that periodic ring-shaped ...

A whole new meaning for thinking on your feet

Smithsonian researchers report that the brains of tiny spiders are so large that they fill their body cavities and overflow into their legs. As part of ongoing research to understand how miniaturization affects brain size ...

Scientists discover new direction in Alzheimer's research

In what they are calling a new direction in the study of Alzheimer's disease, UC Santa Barbara scientists have made an important finding about what happens to brain cells that are destroyed in Alzheimer's disease and related ...

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An axon or nerve fiber is a long, slender projection of a nerve cell, or neuron, that conducts electrical impulses away from the neuron's cell body or soma.

An axon is one of two types of protoplasmic protrusions that extrude from the cell body of a neuron, the other type being dendrites. Axons are distinguished from dendrites by several features, including shape (dendrites often taper while axons usually maintain a constant radius), length (dendrites are restricted to a small region around the cell body while axons can be much longer), and function (dendrites usually receive signals while axons usually transmit them). All of these rules have exceptions, however.

Some types of neurons have no axon—these are called amacrine cells, and transmit signals from their dendrites. No neuron ever has more than one axon; however in invertebrates such as insects the axon sometimes consists of several regions that function more or less independently of each other. Most axons branch, in some cases very profusely.

Axons make contact with other cells—usually other neurons but sometimes muscle or gland cells—at junctions called synapses. At a synapse, the membrane of the axon closely adjoins the membrane of the target cell, and special molecular structures serve to transmit electrical or electrochemical signals across the gap. Some synaptic junctions appear partway along an axon as it extends—these are called en passant ("in passing") synapses. Other synapses appear as terminals at the ends of axonal branches. A single axon, with all its branches taken together, can innervate multiple parts of the brain and generate thousands of synaptic terminals.

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