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Information Processing in the Central Nervous System

Neurotransmitter Review
• Name one excitatory neurotransmitter and explain how it works.
Acetylcholine is an example of an excitatory neurotransmitter. When it binds to the postsynaptic cell it opens sodium channels and sodium rushes in. If the influx of sodium causes the membrane potential to reach – 50 mV (the threshold potential), then an action potential is generated in the postsynaptic cell.

Neurotransmitter Review
• Name one inhibitory neurotransmitter and explain how it works.
GABA is an example of an inhibitory neurotransmitter. When GABA binds to the postsynaptic cell, chloride ion channels open and chloride rushes into the cell. The increased negative charge hyperpolarizes the postsynaptic cell and makes it more difficult for threshold potential to be achieved by excitatory neurotransmitters.

Decision Making in the CNS
• Neurons in the Central Nervous System (CNS) may synapse with up to 1000 other cells. • Neurons rarely receive just one message, and in fact, one release of neurotransmitter from a single cell is unlikely to illicit a response in the postsynaptic neuron. • How do neurons integrate the information from many different neurons to produce an action potential?

Summation
• The additive effect of neurotransmitters on the postsynaptic neuron. • If the addition of the different signals causes the postsynaptic cell to depolarize to the threshold potential, an action potential is stimulated • There are two types of summation:
– Temporal – Spatial

Temporal Summation
•A

single neuron fires repeatedly and in quick succession. • Depolarization in the postsynaptic action hillock occurs in small steps • If threshold potential is reached, an action potential is generated.

Analogy for Temporal Summation
• The bathtub represents the postsynaptic neuron and the bucket represents neurotransmitters from the presynaptic terminal. • An action potential is generated when the bathtub overflows. • The presynaptic cell repeatedly adds water to the bathtub until it overflows

One more look at temporal summation:

Spatial Summation
• Neurotransmitters arrive simultaneously from different neurons. • Some neurotransmitters are excitatory and some are inhibitory • If the combined sum of the inhibitory and excitatory impulses causes depolarization to the threshold potential, an action potential is generated.

Analogy for Spatial Summation
• The bathtub represents the postsynaptic neuron and the buckets represent neurotransmitters from different presynaptic terminals. • An action potential is generated when the bathtub overflows. • The combination of adding and subtracting water from the different buckets at the same time determines whether an action potential will occur.

One more look at spatial summation:

How do temporal and spatial summation relate to the perception of stimuli in the human body?
• What are the three different neurons involved in detecting and responding to a stimulus?
Sensory neurons – detect the stimulus Interneurons/relay neurons – central nervous system, decides on response to stimulus Motor neurons – carry out the response directed by the CNS.

Types of Sensory Receptors
• Mechanoreceptors – sensitive to changes in pressure, texture and vibration.
– E.g. touch, pain, and tension receptors in the skin – Inner ear for hearing and balance

Test the sensitivity of your mechanoreceptors
• Experiment 1: Have one partner close their eyes. The other partner then slowly lowers a piece of fishing wire on the arm of the first person. Ask them to identify when they first feel the stimulus. Is this more likely a demonstration of temporal or spatial summation? • Experiment 2: Unbend a paper clip so that it is U-shaped. One partner closes their eyes. The other partner gently pushes either one, or both sides of the paper clip on the arm of their partner. Ask the person to identify whether one or both sides of the paper clip are touching them. Try on different locations such as the arm, fingers, or cheek. Does it make a difference where the stimulus is applied? Is this more likely a demonstration of temporal or spatial summation?

Your body according to your mechanoreceptors:

Chemoreceptors
• Detect chemical solutes or vapours.
– E.g. taste in the tongue, concentration of carbon dioxide in blood, smell in the nose – Test your chemoreceptors for summation: When the air freshener is sprayed. Raise your hand when you smell it. Who smells it first? Why?

Photoreceptors
• Detect electromagnetic radiation
– E.g. rod and cone cells in the retina of the eye detect visible light. – Some animals can detect other forms of electromagnetic radiation:
• Snakes – can detect infrared radiation (heat) • Bees – can detect UV radiation

Summation in the Retina
• We will learn more about this in another class, as it is very important to the functioning of the eye.

Thermoreceptors
• Sensitive to changes in temperature
– E.g. thermoreceptive nerves in skin.
Test your thermoreceptors by placing one hand in hot water and another in cold water. Wait one minute. Then put both hands at the same time into some lukewarm water. What do you notice about the temperature perceived by each hand?

The contrast principle
• Your perception of stimuli is based on changes. It is therefore not an absolute measure but a relative one. This is why your hands felt different temperatures when placed in the lukewarm water. It is also why light colours next to dark colors seem lighter, and a stale smell seems worse after a sweet smell. • Interestingly, this sensory principle can also be applied to more complex psychology. For example, a real estate salesman may show his customers three unattractive houses before showing them the one he wants them to buy. It will look better to the customers because of the contrast principle.