The billions of neurons (nerve cells) in your brain come in many different types and sizes, but they all work the same way. Neurons serve as essential messengers that transmit the information your brain needs to regulate every aspect of your mind and body.
The team at MindSet wrote this blog to explain how neurons work. Learning about neurons also makes it easier to understand how transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) effectively improves your mental health.
How Neurons Work
Every neuron consists of a cell body that has structures sticking out on two sides. These structures are called dendrites and extend from one side of the cell body. Their branches contain receptors that bind with neurotransmitters coming from other neurons.
After dendrites take in neurotransmitters, they send the chemicals into the cell body. The cell body turns the chemicals into an electrical signal that travels down a long, tail-like structure on the other side of the cell body called the axon.
As the electrical wave reaches the end of the axon, it triggers the release of neurotransmitters that are stored in the axon. The neurotransmitters leave the neuron and travel to the dendrites of a nearby neuron.
Neurons don’t touch one another. The axon of one neuron is separated from the dendrites of another neuron by an extremely narrow space called the synapse. Neurotransmitters travel through the synapse and attach to receptors on the dendrites of the next neuron. Then the same process occurs in that neuron, which in turn passes the message along to the next neuron.
Neuron Communication Produces Targeted Results
Neuron communication is far more complex than the basic steps described above. Many different mechanisms allow nerve activity to cause a precise response in your brain. A few of these mechanisms include:
Neurotransmitters bind to specific receptors
Neurotransmitters can only attach to certain dendrite receptors. Just as a key fits one lock, neurotransmitters can only communicate with the next neuron if they match the size and shape of the receptor.
Your body quickly eliminates neurotransmitters that don’t gain access into the next neuron. Excess neurotransmitters may diffuse out of the synapse, be broken down, or go back into the neuron that released them.
Neurons produce and release distinct neurotransmitters
Nerve cell bodies produce specific neurotransmitters that regulate particular functions. While neurons may produce more than one neurotransmitter, they don’t randomly release any old neurotransmitter.
Specialized neurons form communication networks
Neurons can develop networks in your brain. The type of network determines how they communicate and the results they produce.
One neuron may only communicate with one other neuron, but many of these neurons may work together, creating a long chain that quickly sends messages to another region of your brain. Alternatively, one neuron may receive or send signals to thousands of other neurons.
Neurotransmitters have precise roles
Each type of neurotransmitter has unique roles, so the neurotransmitter released determines the response. Here are two examples:
Certain neurons in your brain release serotonin. This neurotransmitter communicates with nerves within your brain that regulate mood, memory, and other behaviors.
Some neurons in your brain produce and release a neurotransmitter called dopamine. Dopamine activates motor nerves in your body that control muscle activity.
Neuropeptides as Neurotransmitters
Neurons have another way of affecting your brain. Some neurons release neuropeptides (short chains of amino acids) that don’t go into the synapse. Instead, various parts of the neuron release neuropeptides into the fluid-filled spaces between neurons.
As a result, neuropeptides reach all the areas of your brain. Along the way, they activate cells that regulate a wide range of functions, including mood, pain, and memory.
How TMS Affects Brain Neurons
During TMS treatments, we target the frontal lobe of your brain and send repetitive electromagnetic pulses into that area. These pulses stimulate the electrical activity in your neurons, which can boost neurotransmitter levels and improves neural connectivity.
Mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety, and PTSD, are associated with low neuron activity and reduced neurotransmitter levels. As TMS aims to adjust brain function, your symptoms will likely improve.
When the patient receives TMS therapy, our clinic performs weekly electroencephalograms (EEGs) that measure your neuron activity. By comparing each EEG, you can clearly see the difference that results from TMS. The EEG results are used as a guide to monitor the progress of your neuron activity/response to TMS treatment.
To learn if you’re a good candidate for TMS, call MindSet or book an appointment online today.