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Learning objectives

After completing this study unit you will be able to:

  1. Describe the structure of a nerve cell.
  2. Understand the morphological classification of neurons.
  3. Identify the learned structures in histological images.

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Nerve cells (neurons) form the structural and functional units of the central and peripheral nervous systems. Their function is to receive stimuli and transmit nerve impulses to the target organ. Nerve cells consist of a cell body (soma), dendrites, an axon and a specialized cytoskeleton. Dendrites receive and integrate signals from other neurons or from sensory stimuli and their number can vary. However, each neuron only has one axon that transmits the electrical impulses. To increase conduction velocity, axons are insulated with myelin sheaths. In the central nervous system, this function is performed by oligodendrocytes and in the peripheral nervous system by Schwann cells, respectively.

There is a great variety in types of neurons, which are differentiated according to the shape and size of the cell body as well as the number, length and type of processes. Based on this morphological classification, there are multipolar, bipolar, unipolar and pseudounipolar neurons. Multipolar neurons, which have one axon and multiple dendrites, are the most common neurons in the human nervous system.

Watch the following video to learn more about the structure and different types of neurons:

Browse atlas

Before delving into the histology of neurons, let us revisit the basic structure and types of neurons.

Have a chance to study each structure in the following image gallery:

Now, it is time to view these structures, stained with Hematoxylin & eosin (H&E), under the microscope:

Let us review these structures under the microscope once again. Only this time, they are stained with Luxol-fast blue to depict the myelin sheaths in the nervous tissue:

Take a quiz

Wow, that was a lot of information! Take our quizzes to solidify this newly acquired knowledge.

Let us start off by testing ourselves on the structure and types of neurons:

Ready to take it a notch further? Quiz yourself on the histology of neurons with the following quiz:

To adjust your focus and choose the topics you’ll get quizzed on, try out our customizable quiz.

Well done!

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