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Neural Communication

Neurobiologists and other investigators understand that humans and animals operate similarly when processing information.

Note the similarities in the above brain regions, which are all engaged in information processing.

Neural Communication
The bodys information system is built from billions of interconnected cells called neurons, a nerve cell which is the basic building block of the nervous system.

A nerve cell, or a neuron, consists of many different parts.

Parts of a Neuron
Cell Body: Life support center of the neuron. Dendrites: Branching extensions at the cell body. Receive messages from other neurons. Axon: Long single extension of a neuron, covered with myelin [MY-uh-lin] sheath to insulate and speed up messages through neurons. Terminal Branches of axon: Branched endings of an axon that transmit messages to other neurons.

Fig. 3-2, p. 75

Action Potential
A neural impulse. A brief electrical charge that travels down an axon and is generated by the movement of positively charged atoms in and out of channels in the axons membrane.

Potential = Voltage (Action potential refers to the impulse during action/Resting Potential refers to the impulse during rest)

Threshold: Each neuron receives excitatory (like pushing the accelerator) and inhibitory (like pressing the brake) signals from many neurons. When the excitatory signals minus the inhibitory signals exceed a minimum intensity (threshold) the neuron fires an action potential.

Action Potential Properties

All-or-None Response: A strong stimulus can trigger more neurons to fire, and to fire more often, but it does not affect the action potentials strength or speed. Intensity of an action potential remains the same throughout the length of the axon. It does not slow down as it travels.

What the what?

We have just described how an action potential moves through a single nerve cell. Now we will look at how that action potential gets from one nerve cell to another!

Synapse: a junction between the axon tip of the sending neuron and the dendrite or cell body of the receiving neuron. This tiny gap is called the synaptic gap or cleft.

Neurotransmitters (chemicals) released from the sending neuron travel across the synapse and bind to receptor sites on the receiving neuron, thereby influencing it to generate an action potential.

Neurotransmitters in the synapse are reabsorbed into the sending neurons through the process of reuptake. This process applies the brakes on neurotransmitter action.

Fig. 3-4, p. 78

Reuptake Inhibitors
Serotonin: Regulation of mood, sleep, muscle contraction and some cognitive functions including memory and learning Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRI): treat depression and anxiety by preventing the reuptake of serotonin. Common SSRIs: Paxil, Zoloft, Prozac

How Neurotransmitters Influence Us

Serotonin pathways are involved with mood regulation.

From Mapping the Mind, Rita Carter, 1989 University of California Press

Dopamine Pathways

Dopamine pathways are involved with diseases such as schizophrenia and Parkinsons disease.
From Mapping the Mind, Rita Carter, 1989 University of California Press

Parkinsons Disease
Different areas of the brain must communicate in order to produce smooth and coordinated muscle movements. Dopamine is a key neurotransmitter involved in this communication. Parkinsons Disease is caused by a deterioration of brain neurons that produce dopamine (it is still unknown why this occurs). A lack of dopamine results in abnormal nerve functioning, causing a loss in the ability to control body movements.

Symptoms consist of hallucinations, delusions and irrational behavior. Although not the sole cause of schizophrenia, dopamine unbalance is consistently seen found in patients with schizophrenia. Schizophrenia may result from biopsychosocial factors. Some evidence supports a genetic predisposition. Drugs that prevent dopamine from binding to receptors reduce the symptoms of schizophrenia.

A Schizophrenics paintings of his cat

Fig. 3-28, p. 103


Lock & Key Mechanism

Neurotransmitters bind to the receptors of the receiving neuron in a key-lock mechanism.


Endorphin Agonists
Endorphins are chemicals produced by the body during times of physical or psychological stress. Relieve pain, relaxation, feeling of well being

Morphine binds to endorphin receptors causing the same effects.


Curare: ACh Antagonist

Acetylcholine (Ach) enables muscle activity, learning and memory. Historically, indigenous South Americans have used blowgun darts dipped in Curare when hunting. Curare blocks ACh from binding to receptors.

Result: muscles unable to contract, paralysis of respiratory muscles

High blood Pressure

Epinephrine (also called adrenaline because it is released by the adrenal gland) is release in times of stress (fight or flight, adrenaline rush).
Epinephrine fits into -receptors

Epinephrine in the blood reaches -receptors (such as those in the heart) - prepares the body for an emergency.
Increases heart rate, elevates blood sugar, dilates pupils, etc. boosts the supply of oxygen and glucose to brain and muscles suppresses non-emergency bodily functions (ie: digestion)

In people with hypertension this response leads to complications such as blood vessel damage, stroke, heart attack, etc.

Beta-Blockers for High blood Pressure

High blood pressure medications, called Betablockers, block beta receptors.

In other words they act as epinephrine antagonists.

Nervous System

Central Nervous System (CNS)

Peripheral Nervous System (PNS)

The Nervous System

Nervous System: Consists of all the nerve cells. It is the bodys speedy, electrochemical communication system. Central Nervous System (CNS): the brain and spinal cord. Peripheral Nervous System (PNS): the sensory and motor neurons that connect the central nervous system (CNS) to the rest of the body.

The Nervous System

The Brain and Neural Networks

Interconnected neurons form networks in the brain. Theses networks are complex and modify with growth and experience.

The Nerves
Nerves consist of neural cables containing many axons. They are part of the peripheral nervous system and connect muscles, glands, and sense organs to the central nervous system.

Kinds of Neurons by Function

Sensory Neurons carry incoming information from the sense receptors to the CNS. Motor Neurons carry outgoing information from the CNS to muscles and glands. Interneurons connect the two neurons.

Interneuron Neuron (Unipolar) Motor Neuron (Multipolar)

Sensory Neuron (Bipolar)

Peripheral Nervous System

Somatic Nervous System: The division of the peripheral nervous system that controls the bodys skeletal muscles. Autonomic Nervous System: Part of the PNS that controls the glands and internal organs.

Autonomic Nervous System (ANS)

Sympathetic Nervous System: arouses the body, mobilizing its energy in stressful situations, fight or flight Parasympathetic Nervous System: calms the body, conserving its energy, rest & digestion.

Autonomic Nervous System (ANS)

Sympathetic NS Arouses (fight-or-flight) Parasympathetic NS Calms (rest and digest)

Fig. 3-8, p. 83

Central Nervous System

The Spinal Cord and Reflexes

Simple Reflex

Nervous System vs. Endocrine System

Both: Regulate conditions in body Use chemicals for communication

Nervous System Chemicals of Nervous System = neurotransmitters

Endocrine System Chemicals of Endocrine = hormones

Nervous system secretes neurotransmitters b/w nerve cells

Signals sent in fractions of a second

Endocrine system secretes hormones into blood stream

Chemicals can take many seconds to begin working, effects can last longer (hours, days)

The Endocrine System

The Endocrine System is the bodys slow chemical communication system. Communication is carried out by hormones synthesized by a set of glands.

Hormones: chemicals synthesized by the endocrine glands secreted in the bloodstream affect the brain and many other tissues of the body.
Brain Glands Hormones

Example: epinephrine (adrenaline) increases heart rate, blood pressure, blood sugar, and feelings of excitement during emergency situations.

Hormones are Specific

Only certain cells in the body can respond to hormones and, often, only at limited times.
In order for cells to respond they must have the hormone receptor molecule

Example: Oxytocin is released by the posterior pituitary, carried through the bloodstream to all the tissues in the body. It acts on only two tissues, the breasts and uterus in the female. It acts only under certain conditions, such as: Oxytocin causes uterine contractions at the end of pregnancy. Oxytocin causes breast tissue to eject milk only if the female has recently given birth and is nursing.

Pituitary Gland
Is called the master gland. The anterior pituitary lobe releases hormones that regulate other glands. The posterior lobe regulates water and salt balance.

Pituitary Gland
Is called the master gland.

anterior pituitary lobe releases hormones that regulate organs and other glands.

posterior lobe regulates water and salt balance.

Thyroid & Parathyroid Glands

Regulate metabolic and calcium rate.

Diet & Bone Health

Normal blood pH ~7.4 required for effective transport of Oxygen Excessive protein and not enough fruits and veggies causes your blood to become acidic Soda causes your blood to become acidic Your body must restore normal pH Parathyroid hormone is released causing calcium to leach from your bones into blood. This restores pH

Adrenal Glands
Adrenal glands consist of the adrenal medulla and the cortex. The medulla secretes hormones (epinephrine and norepinephrine) during stressful and emotional situations, while the adrenal cortex regulates salt and carbohydrate metabolism.

Adrenal Glands
The adrenal cortex regulates salt and carbohydrate metabolism.

The medulla secretes hormones (epinephrine and norepinephrine) during stressful and emotional situations.

Sex glands are located in different places in men and women. They regulate bodily development and maintain reproductive organs in adults.

The Brain
Techniques to Study the Brain

A brain lesion experimentally destroys brain tissue to study animal behaviors after such destruction.
Remember, the hippocampus was removed from rats at various times after learning a maze.

Hubel (1990)

Clinical Observation
Clinical observations have shed light on a number of brain disorders. Alterations in brain morphology due to neurological and psychiatric diseases are now being catalogued.

Tom Landers/ Boston Globe

Studying the Living Human Brain

Animal studies and clinical observations are useful, but often, such as when we need to diagnose or treat illness, we want to know what is happening inside the brain of a living human. For this we have:
EEG: Electroencephalogram MRI: Magnetic resonance imaging

PET Scan: Positron emission tomography

CT Scan (or CAT Scan): Computerized Tomography

Electroencephalogram (EEG)
An amplified recording of the electrical waves sweeping across the brains surface, measured by electrodes placed on the scalp.

AJ Photo/ Photo Researchers, Inc.

MRI: Magnetic Resonance Imaging

MRI uses magnetic fields and radio waves to produce computer-generated images that distinguish among different types of brain tissue. Top images show ventricular enlargement in a schizophrenic patient.
Both photos from Daniel Weinberger, M.D., CBDB, NIMH

Bottom image shows brain regions when a participants lies.

James Salzano/ Salzano Photo

Lucy Reading/ Lucy Illustrations

PET Scan: Positron Emission Tomography

PET Scan is a visual display of brain activity
Detects gamma rays emitted by a radioactive form of glucose while the brain performs a given task.

Courtesy of National Brookhaven National Laboratories

CT Scan: Computerized Tomography

X-ray rotates around head.

May be done with or without contrasting dye.

Images taken from different angles are assembled into 3-D image

CT scan produces much more detailed image than x-ray of bone and soft tissue

The Brain
The Brain

Brain stem





Brain Stem

The Brain Stem:

Older Brain Structures
The Brainstem is the oldest part of the brain, beginning where the spinal cord swells and enters the skull. It is responsible for automatic survival functions.


The Thalamus [THAL-uhmuss] is the brains sensory switchboard, located on top of the brainstem. It directs messages to the sensory areas in the cortex and transmits replies to the cerebellum and medulla.
To medulla 1.

3. 4. To cerebellum

The Pons plays a role in muscle coordination.


Reticular Formation
Reticular Formation is a nerve network in the brainstem that plays an important role in controlling arousal.
Damage to this causes a disorder called narcolepsy in which a person falls asleep suddenly during the daytime and cannot resist the sleep.

The Medulla [muhDUL-uh] is the base of the brainstem that controls heartbeat and breathing.

The little brain attached to the rear of the brainstem. It helps coordinate voluntary movements and balance. Implicit (procedural) memory.

The Limbic System

The Limbic System is a doughnutshaped system of neural structures at the border of the brainstem and cerebrum Associated with emotions such as fear, aggression and drives for food and sex.


The Amygdala [ah-MIGdah-la] consists of two lima bean-sized neural clusters linked to the emotions of fear and anger.

Hypothalamus lies below (hypo) the thalamus. Directs maintenance activities like eating, drinking, body temperature, and control of emotions. It stimulates or inhibits pituitary gland other endocrine glands

Reward Center
Rats cross an electrified grid for self-stimulation when electrodes are placed in the reward (hypothalamus) center (top picture). When the limbic system is manipulated, a rat will navigate fields or climb up a tree (bottom picture).

Sanjiv Talwar, SUNY Downstate

The Cerebral Cortex

The intricate fabric of interconnected neural cells that covers the cerebral hemispheres. It is the bodys ultimate control and information processing center.

Structure of the Cortex

Each brain hemisphere is divided into four lobes

Functions of the Cortex

The Motor Cortex is the area at the rear of the frontal lobes that control voluntary movements. The Sensory Cortex (parietal cortex) receives information from skin surface and sense organs.

Visual Function

Visual Function
Notice the visual cortex is located in the occipital lobe.

The functional MRI scan shows the visual cortex is active as the subject looks at faces.

Courtesy of V.P. Clark, K. Keill, J. Ma. Maisog, S. Courtney, L.G. Ungerleider, and J.V. Haxby, National Institute of Mental Health

Auditory Function
The auditory cortex contains distinct subregions that are important for decoding complex sound.

Auditory cortex is in the temporal lobe.

5. The motor cortex is involved in sensorymotor feedback, in controlling movements needed to produce music using an instrument.

3 2. information travels through the brainstem and midbrain to the 1 auditory cortex. 2 4

4. The frontal lobe is involved in emotional evaluation.

1. Sound waves enter ear, and are turned into neural impulses by the inner ear

3. information from the auditory cortex interacts with many other brain areas, especially the frontal lobe, for memory formation and interpretation.

Auditory Hallucinations
The functional MRI scan shows the auditory cortex is active in patients who hallucinate.

Association Areas
More intelligent animals have increased uncommitted or association areas of the cortex.

Aphasia is an impairment of language, usually caused by left hemisphere damage either to Brocas area (impaired speaking) or to Wernickes area (impaired understanding).

Specialization & Integration

Brain activity when hearing, seeing, and speaking words

The Brains Plasticity

The brain is sculpted by our genes but also by our experiences. Plasticity refers to the brains ability to modify itself after some types of injury or illness.

Our Divided Brain

Our brain is divided into two hemispheres. The left hemisphere processes reading, writing, speaking, mathematics, and comprehension skills. In the 1960s, it was termed as the dominant brain.

Splitting the Brain

A procedure in which the two hemispheres of the brain are isolated by cutting the connecting fibers (mainly those of the corpus callosum) between them.
Corpus Callosum
Courtesy of Terence Williams, University of Iowa

Martin M. Rother

Split Brain Patients

With the corpus callosum severed, objects (apple) presented in the right visual field can be named. Objects (pencil) in the left visual field cannot.

Try This!
Try drawing one shape with your left hand and one with your right hand, simultaneously.