I just read How does an inhibitory synapse communicate to the cell body of a neuron? and found myself asking this question ... hopefully I'm not asking the same thing

Any body possessed of a nervous system probably has hundreds of neurons. At one end of the neuron is the nervous system, at the other - the organ.

A neuron is connected to several others in the vicinity through it's dendrites. When a 'signal' (for want of better word) is put on the system bus - how does a neuron know whether it has to act ( contract/relax it's associated muscle/organ ) on the signal, or pass it on ( forward ) after amplification of the signal, if necessary?

Is there something like a chemical protocol to identify the target neuron/group-of-neurons that form the destination?

  • $\begingroup$ Sensory neurone is the protocol I guess. $\endgroup$
    – Fyce
    Commented Oct 7, 2012 at 10:21

1 Answer 1


An analogy to a computer bus can easily mislead you. Neurons do not communicated via a multiplexed "bus" with different targets; rather the complex connectivity of the neurons itself works as a computing device as a whole. The area study for understanding the communication among neurons is called "neural coding".

If you are talking about just the motor and sensory peripheral nerves, they innervate specific targets.

  • $\begingroup$ I'm confused; does this mean that a neuron can identify what is meant for it's action without the signal itself carrying some kind of identification? $\endgroup$
    – Everyone
    Commented Oct 7, 2012 at 18:28
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Everyone, no it means that most neurons are hard wired for a specific task. Activating them results in a task-specific signal. That said, information "can" be encoded in the signal. Different chemical pathways in the neuron can be activated depending on the incoming signal, the same neuron can react in different ways to different neurotransmitters for example. $\endgroup$
    – terdon
    Commented Oct 8, 2012 at 10:06

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