Nerve Impulse Conduction

The nerve cell or neuron is comprised of the cell body, dendrites, and an axon. The dendrites receive communications from other cells and have extensive branched projections that serve to maximize cellular signaling. Information received by the dendrites is sent to the body of the cell, where the nucleus of the cell passes information on to the axon. The axon of the cell also has branching at the terminal end, and it is at this end that the one nerve cell communicates with the next (Fig. 19.2). The point of communication between

Fig. 19.2. Anatomy of a neuron [48]

the terminal end of one nerve cell and the dendrite projection of another is referred to as the synapse. Neuronal cell excitation and inhibition typically occur by direct or indirect mechanisms that involve the activation of ion channels that are regulated by membrane bound protein channels. For example, the activation of an ion channel, like chloride, results in an intercellular influx of ions with a negative charge resulting in inhibition of the neuron. Conversely, ion channels that allow the flow of positive ions typically result in excitation of the neuron [44]. Inhibition and excitation of neurons is stimulated via the release of chemicals called neurotransmitters (produced in the axon terminal) and it is these that have a major influence on brain activity. Impulse transmission is expedited via a phospholipid-based sheath that covers the neurons, the myelin sheath. The myelin acts as a barrier for signal transmission and causes a "hopping" of transmission signals between myelinated areas. This "hopping" effect, or saltatory conduction, speeds the rate of impulse transmission [44].

Nutrient deficits interfering with the release of important cellular signals or the formation of myelin could have a profoundly negative impact on cellular communication.

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