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Published March 1990 | Published
Journal Article Open

Career Choices for Developing Neurons


The study of the brain has become one of modern biology's last frontiers. We are fascinated by how we think, remember, and feel, and how such a complex machine capable of doing these things can assemble itself. It is the latter problem that I'm going to address-how the brain gets built. There are many aspects to this problem, but one of the central questions is the problem of neuronal diversity. The brain contains an enormous number of different types of neurons, not just one generic kind of nerve cell. The great neuroanatomist Santiago Ramón y Cajal recognized many of these different types of nerve cells almost a century ago. These neurons not only have different shapes, which were visible to Ramón y Cajal in the microscope, but are also specialized biochemically in ways that we can now observe with more modern methods. This great diversity of form subserves a diversity of function, which is extremely important for the way your brain works. Taken together, these different kinds of neurons amount to more cell types than are found in all the rest of the body combined.

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© 1990 California Institute of Technology.

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