Structure of a Neuron

Updated on September 15, 2017
Daughter Of Maat profile image

With over two decades of experience in medicine, Melissa Flagg writes patient education articles, keeping you informed about your health.

Basic Structure of a Neuron

A simplified view of the structure of a neuron.
A simplified view of the structure of a neuron. | Source

The brain is a very complicated organ. In fact, we have yet to learn everything there is to know about the brain. However, we do know that it is comprised of highly specialized cells called neurons.

Neurons are the building blocks of the nervous system. They send and receive information all over the body using both chemical and electrical signals.

The most common way information is transmitted is through a single neuron electrically and then transmitted to the target cell chemically. The structure of neurons is designed for the most efficient transmission of these signals.

The Structure of a Neuron

Although neurons look complicated, their design is actually quite simple. The neuron is broken up into two major regions:

  • A region for receiving and processing incoming information from other cells
  • A region for conducting and transmitting information to other cells

The type of information that is received, processed and transmitted by a neuron depends on its location in the nervous system. For example, neurons located in the occipital lobe process visual information, whereas neurons in the motor pathways process and transmit information that controls the movement of muscles. However, regardless of the type of information, all neurons have the same basic anatomical structure.

The Cell Body

The main portion of the neuron is called the soma, or cell body. In the center of the soma is the nucleus of the cell, which is where the chromosomes that contain all of the genetic material are stored. This is also the part of the cell that creates mRNA for cell replication.

Emerging from the soma are the dendrites and axons. The dendrites are, essentially, appendages that receive signals. Some CNS (central nervous system) dendrites have what are called dendritic spines, little knob-like structures that extend from the dendrite.

Detailed Structure of a Neuron


Dendrites and Synapses

Dendrites create one of the most well-known structures in the brain: the synapse. This is the site of interaction between the neuron and the target cell. Synapses can be located in several places and are classified based on their location:

  • Axospinous – found on the dendritic spine
  • Axodendritic – found on the dendrite itself
  • Axosomatic - found on the soma (cell body)
  • Axoaxonic – found on the axon, or tail

The axon can best be described as the tail of the neuron. It conducts and transmits information and in some cases may receive information.

Some axons have an intermittent coating known as the myelin sheath. This sheath is made of the plasma membrane of glial cells that form a lipid structure and are designed to increase the speed at which information is transmitted.

The gaps between the myelinated axon are called the nodes of Ranvier. At the end of the axon is the axon terminal which contains small vesicles packed with neurotransmitter molecules. These vesicles bind to receptors on the target cells when activated.

Neocortical Pyramidal Neuron

A human neocortical pyramidal neuron stained via Golgi technique
A human neocortical pyramidal neuron stained via Golgi technique | Source

Both dendrites and axons are capable of forming multiple synapses. Although neurons only have one axon, this one axon can branch out extensively allowing it to distribute information to multiple target cells. Because of this, neurons can send and receive information to and from numerous targets.

The Myelin Sheath

As stated earlier, the myelin sheath is a multilayered lipid and protein structure that is made up of the plasma membrane of glial cells. In the peripheral nervous system (PNS), the Schwann cell is responsible for myelination. This cell can only myelinate one portion of one nerve cell. It accomplishes this by wrapping itself multiple times around the axon creating a multilayered sheath.

In contrast, oligodendrocytes are responsible for myelination in the central nervous system (CNS). These cells are capable of myelinating portions of up to 40 axons. They do this by extending a thin membrane and wrapping around the axon several times. To maintain this structure, these cells synthesize four times their own weight in lipids per day.

Demyelination in MS

Photomicrograph of a demyelinating MS Lesion
Photomicrograph of a demyelinating MS Lesion | Source

The myelin sheath is the location of a number of diseases that cause degeneration of the myelin sheath, also called demyelinating, such as:

  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Optic Neuritis
  • Guillain-Barré syndrome
  • Transverse Myelitis
  • Central Pontine Myelinolysis
  • Vitamin B-12 Deficiency
  • Chronic Inflammatory Demyelinating Polyneuropathy

The degeneration of the myelin sheath causes degradation of the neural impulses that are transmitted along an axon. The systems affected by this degradation depend on the location of the degenerating myelin. For example, multiple sclerosis (MS) affects the neurons of the spinal cord as well as the brain leading to degradation of both motor and cognitive functioning.

An Astrocyte

Stained astrocyte. These cells anchor neurons to their blood supply.
Stained astrocyte. These cells anchor neurons to their blood supply. | Source

Other Cells Associated With Neurons

Astrocytes are star-shaped cells that supply nutritional and physical support for the neurons. They also guide the migrating neurons to their adult destination during the developmental stage of the central nervous system.

These cells also provide services such as phagocytosis (cellular “trash removal”) and regulating the extracellular fluid along with providing a carbon source from lactate (via glucose metabolism) for the neurons.

Microglial cells, as their name suggests, are small. In fact, they are the smallest glial cells in the nervous system and act like immune cells, destroying micro-organisms and phagocytose cellular debris or “trash.”

The central nervous system and spinal cord are lined with ciliated cells called ependymal cells. The ependymal cells in the brain specifically secrete cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) into the ventricular system. The beating of their cilia efficiently circulate the CSF throughout the central nervous system.

Questions & Answers

    © 2013 Melissa Flagg COA OSC


      0 of 8192 characters used
      Post Comment
      • profile image


        7 months ago

        Very useful to me.... Thnq so much

      • profile image


        8 months ago

        Very useful to me...thanks ☺

      • profile image 

        12 months ago

        i like this!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      • profile image


        17 months ago

        Good detail

      • Kristen Howe profile image

        Kristen Howe 

        4 years ago from Northeast Ohio

        Melissa, this was a great hub about the neuron. It's very informative and useful to know for anyone to learn about it at any age. Nicely done!

      • Daughter Of Maat profile imageAUTHOR

        Melissa Flagg COA OSC 

        7 years ago from Rural Central Florida

        Thank you prasetio!!

      • prasetio30 profile image


        7 years ago from malang-indonesia

        A totally fascinating hub, very informative and I learn many things here. Thanks for writing and share with us. Voted up!



      This website uses cookies

      As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

      For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

      Show Details
      HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
      LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
      Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
      AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
      Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
      CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
      Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
      Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
      Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
      Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
      Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
      Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
      Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
      Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
      ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
      ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)