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What Is the Function of Neurons in the Brain?

Different types of neurons.
The entire human brain is consistently put to use on a daily basis.
Neurons are transmitters of chemical and electrical data.
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  • Written By: Jessica Susan Reuter
  • Edited By: Allegra J. Lingo
  • Last Modified Date: 15 September 2014
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The function of neurons in the brain is to process internal and external input received by the human body and ensure that the body continues to function properly. Individual neurons do not perform this function on their own, but the collective of neurons working together in the brain handles all stimuli coming from inside and outside the body. Each neuron is an electrically excitable cell that passes information to other neurons through chemical and electrical signals, and the combined signals of neuron groups in the brain allow carefully processed responses to input.

When transferring signals between each other, the neurons in the brain rely on both chemical and electrical data. Chemical signals are transmitted between neurons by way of neurotransmitters, which are small molecules that drift from one neuron to another to continue a pathway. Electrical signals transmit data through the neurons themselves, traveling from their origin in receivers called dendrites until they reach the end of the neuron, where chemical signaling must take over. Many human disorders, some treatable and others debilitating, are the result of errors in electrical or chemical signal transmission among neurons in the brain.

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All neurons in the brain are structurally similar, although different regions of the brain may have slightly different neuronal structures. The different structures give specific groups of neurons particular capabilities, which is why different areas of the brain are specialized for different tasks. For example, the visual cortex handles input from the eyes, and the motor cortex handles movement. Every area of the brain is specialized for something, and the different areas of the brain often work together in routine tasks. There is a common misconception in popular culture that humans only use a small fraction of their brains, but this is actually not true; the entire brain is consistently put to use on a daily basis.

Science has shown that the neurons in the brain are far more adaptable than was previously believed. For many years, it was believed that if any damage occurred to the brain that the function of those affected neurons would be permanently and irreversibly lost. A multitude of more recent studies has shown that the brain displays the ability to reroute functions though alternative neural pathways, known as plasticity. Some people with damage to the visual centers of the brain can still see, and some people with half of their brains missing can function relatively normally.

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hamje32
Post 3

@Charred - The adaptability of the brain reminds me of the philosophical question, how do we actually learn?

In my computer science class we discussed the idea of computer programs that could learn, or teach themselves from past experiences so to speak.

I see an analogue to this in the brain’s ability to reroute instructions to different parts of the brain when other parts are injured. The brain knows how to learn, in this sense, in my opinion. To me this is the essence of consciousness.

Charred
Post 2

@allenJo - What’s fascinating to me is how the neurons are electrical inputs. To me the brain is like one big computer system, with the brain acting as the CPU and constantly sending signals along different pathways.

I can see now how some activities, like high action video games, could cause seizures in some people. I would suppose that anything which interferes with the brain's electrical activity or excites it somehow could cause a seizure or a shutdown of the brain.

allenJo
Post 1

I am shocked to learn that the idea we only use part of our brain is, in fact, a myth. I had believed this for the longest time, thinking that only people like Albert Einstein had made maximum use of their human brain.

As a matter of fact, this myth was the premise behind the plot of a movie I watched recently, where a guy takes some pills that let him tap into the supposedly unused portions of his brain.

The guy acted like he was on speed or something, with hyper advanced alertness and ability to solve very difficult problems.

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