Rare cells are 'window into the gut' for the nervous system

Specialized cells in the gut sense potentially noxious chemicals and trigger electrical impulses in nearby nerve fibers, according to a new study led by UC San Francisco scientists. "These cells are sensors, like a window ...

New microfluidic chip replicates muscle-nerve connection

MIT engineers have developed a microfluidic device that replicates the neuromuscular junction—the vital connection where nerve meets muscle. The device, about the size of a U.S. quarter, contains a single muscle strip and ...

A 'bridge' of carbon between nerve tissues

A new material made of carbon nanotubes supports the growth of nerve fibers, bridging segregated neural explants and providing a functional re-connection. The study, which was coordinated by SISSA in Trieste, also observed ...

Tarantula toxins offer key insights into neuroscience of pain

When your dentist injects lidocaine into your gums, the drug blocks the pain of the oncoming drill, but it also blocks all other sensation – leaving your mouth feeling numb and swollen. What if there were a drug that could ...

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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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