Learn about the basic physiology and functions of the brain


Nerve cells grown in culture give insight into how neurons communicate. (Image: Callista Harper / QBI)

Cells of the nervous system

The brain and nervous system are made of nerve cells called neurons. Neurons send electrochemical signals to one another, forming the basis of the brain’s complex, essential functions: to form memories and thoughts, to produce actions, and to interpret the world around us. The brain contains approximately 86 billion neurons. But neurons don’t work alone. In fact, there are as many non-neuronal cells, called glia, in the brain as there are neurons, if not more.

Neurons

Glia

Neuroplasticity

The brain is a remarkably adaptive organ. Neurons and the connections between them are continually changing, which allow us to acquire new skills, retain memories, and recover from brain injury. Neuroplasticity refers to the brain and nervous system’s ability to re-model in response to new information. Being plastic, the brain can change as a result of behaviour, emotions, external stimuli and injury.

One mechanism through which this occurs is synaptic plasticity, which occurs at synapses and is crucial for forming new memories. Another is the birth of new neurons, which is known as neurogenesis.

Synaptic plasticity

Neurogenesis

Memory

Memory is what makes us who we are—it is the process by which we store and recall experiences, facts, and information. How does memory work? How does the brain store memories, and where is the information stored? Learn more about the neuroscience behind memory.