Basic Structures and Functions of Neurons and Synapses

Post your response to the following: How would you explain the basic structures and functions of neurons and synapses in the brain to your little brother or sister? Consider using analogies and other examples so that he or she can easily comprehend the information.

I would liken neurons and synapses to a relay race at school. Each of the runners would represent a neuron and the baton would represent the chemical “information” carried along the neurons. The point in using this analogy would be to emphasize that each runner only carries the baton a set distance, and then the baton is passed to another runner (neuron). The point at which the baton is passed to the next runner would act figuratively as the synapses. It might not be obvious to the child why this it is so important, but I could also highlight the fact that if at any point in the race one of the runners does not make it to the next person in the relay the race stops there. This is important because action potential is an all-or-nothing event. Either it happens or it does not. Either the runner makes it to the next hand-off (synapses) or the race ends with that person (neuron). It would also be important to call attention to the point that there is a starting line and a finish line when it comes to neural activity. The electric signal has to start at a specific point, whether that is sensory neurons in the eyes or nose, and end at a specific point, maybe the cerebral cortex in the brain. It might even be fun to explain that the race in our neural system happens at close to 250 mph (Pinel, 2007).


Pinel, J.J. (2007). Basics of biopsychology. Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.


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