Distinct regions of neurons and the various nervous system cell types fulfil specialized functions based on the unique set of proteins expressed and localized in each. Researchers are therefore able to exploit these differences to detect and label different cell structures and cell types in the nervous system.
The nervous system is composed of two distinct cell types: glial cells and neurons.
Glial cells, also commonly known as neuroglia or glia, are non-neuronal cells that provide support to neurons in both the peripheral and central nervous system.
Glial cells primarily function to:
- Maintain homeostasis by supplying nutrients and oxygen and removing pathogens
- Provide structural support to neurons by keeping them in place and insulating signaling
Glial cells can be divided into two broad groups: microglia and macroglia.
Microglia are smaller than macroglia, and they remove pathogens that may harm neurons through phagocytosis.
The term macroglia includes a number of types of glial cells that have different functions and locations. The macroglia group includes:
- Ependymal Cells
- Radial Cells
- Schwann Cells
Neurons are a diverse class of cells that have distinct structural and functional characteristics that differentiate them from glial cells. Neurons have a polar cell body structure, distinguished by dendrites and axons. Signals are received by the dendrites and passed along through the cell to the axon, which then transmits the signal to other nearby neurons.
Dendrites and axons are the two components of a typical synapse. The axon is the presynaptic terminal, which passes a chemical or electrical signal to the dendrite of the postsynaptic neuron.
The membranes of presynaptic and postsynaptic neurons can be distinguished from each other by the proteins, receptors, and channels present.
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