What is an Axon?
An axon is a long, slender projection of a neuron that transmits electrical impulses, known as action potentials, away from the cell body to other neurons, muscles, or glands. Axons can vary in length, with some extending up to several feet in the human body. They are an essential component of the nervous system, facilitating communication between different cells. Axons are insulated by a fatty substance called myelin, which helps speed up the transmission of electrical signals. This myelin sheath is produced by glial cells, such as oligodendrocytes in the central nervous system and Schwann cells in the peripheral nervous system. The myelin sheath is interrupted at regular intervals, called nodes of Ranvier, which further facilitate the rapid conduction of nerve impulses along the axon.
Examples of Axons in neuroscience
Action Potential Propagation
Action potentials are generated at the axon hillock and propagate along the axon towards the axon terminals. The myelin sheath and nodes of Ranvier enable saltatory conduction, a rapid mode of signal transmission that allows the action potential to “jump” between the nodes.
The axon of a motor neuron extends from the spinal cord to the neuromuscular junction, where it connects with muscle fibers. The electrical signal transmitted by the axon is converted into a chemical signal at the synapse, leading to muscle contraction.
Axons play a critical role in the transmission of information between neurons. They help form synapses with dendrites or cell bodies of other neurons, facilitating the exchange of electrical and chemical signals within the nervous system.