By Martin L. Yarmush
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Additional resources for Biotechnology for Biomedical Engineers
In humans, there exist two types of memory: short-term and long-term memories. The best way to study any physiologic process in humans, and especially memory, is to study its pathology. The study of amnesia has provided strong evidence distinguishing between these types of memory. Amnesic patients can keep a short list of numbers in mind for several minutes if they pay attention to the task. The difficulty comes when the list becomes longer, especially if the amount to be learned exceeds the brain capacity of what can be held in immediate memory.
The axon makes functional connections with other neurons at synapses on either the cell body, the dendrites, or the axons. There exist two kinds of synapses: excitatory and inhibitory, and as the names imply, they either increase the firing frequency of the postsynaptic neurons or decrease it, respectively. Sensory receptors are specialized cells that, in response to an incoming stimulus, generate a corresponding electrical signal, a graded receptor potential. The receptor potential, then, is the change in intracellular potential relative to the resting potential.
The important of accurate timing of inputs and the maintenance of this timing across several synapses is obvious in sensory pathways of the nervous system. Cells are located next to other cells that have overlapping or adjacent receptor or motor fields. These cells have two major dendritic trees extending from opposite poles of the cell body. One receives synaptic inhibitory input from the ipsilateral cochlear nucleus, the other from the contralateral nucleus that normally is an excitatory input.