Rewrite the textbooks: Findings challenge conventional wisdom of how neurons operate

A new discovery about the way neurons an axons work seems to suggest that the axons might be a lot more important than previously thought – Deskarati

Neurons are complicated, their basic functional concept is that synapses transmit electrical signals to the dendrites and cell body (input), and axons carry signals away (output). In one of many surprise findings, Northwestern University scientists have discovered that axons can operate in reverse: they can send signals to the cell body, too.

It also turns out axons can talk to each other. Before sending signals in reverse, axons can perform their own neural computations without any involvement from the cell body or dendrites. This is contrary to typical neuronal communication where an axon of one neuron is in contact with another neuron’s dendrite or cell body, not its axon. And, unlike the computations performed in dendrites, the computations occurring in axons are thousands of times slower, potentially creating a means for neurons to compute fast things in dendrites and slow things in axons.

A deeper understanding of how a normal neuron works is critical to scientists who study neurological diseases, such as epilepsy, autism, Alzheimer’s disease and schizophrenia.

The findings are published in the February issue of the journal Nature Neuroscience.

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