Whereas neurons and glial cells are the "building blocks" of brain structure, neuron-to-neuron communication is the basic unit of brain function. It is quite astonishing to think that the memory of a loved one's face or the capacity to create a new loving bond is created by some dynamic pattern of synaptic activation. In other words, your fond memories of the comfort of Grandma Hilda's cozy lap and the taste of her banana pudding are the result of chemicals in your brain being zapped around amongst a bunch of neurons.
There are tiny spaces between the point where one neuron ends and another neuron begins. This infinitesimally small area is called the synapse. Here is where cells use chemicals to fire messages to one another. Think of each synapse in the brain as a one-way street. The signals always pass in the same direction; they never work in reverse!
We're halfway through the course already. How did you do this week? Have you started thinking about how various areas of the brain are affected by different types of trauma suffered by children? Log on to the Message Board and tell us some connections you've made.
In Lesson 4 we'll learn more about how different parts of the brain respond to trauma and how human communication has evolved over time.
A synapse is the tiny space between neurons in which cells send chemical messages to one another. Image courtesy of Bruce D. Perry, M.D., Ph.D.