Classification Of Brain Cells

The brain is a complex structure that has many different types of cells. Brain cells are subdivided into groups based on a number of criteria that include whether they serve as (1) structural support cells (glia) or (2) cells that receive and transmit information (called neurons or nerve cells). If cells are the latter, then additional criteria are: (a) shape or size; (b) their connections; (c) the distance over which they transmit information; and (d) which chemicals are released to transmit information to other cells. Most of the effects that drugs produce, which are related to abuse potential, are situated on brain cells that process or transmit information. For that reason, the discussions to follow will consider only actions on interneurons (nerve cells that connect to other nerve cells). The actions of drugs on the brain are complex and seldom involve only one type of brain cell. Nerve cells have a high level of connectivity between one another. Cells in one brain region send inputs to and receive outputs from other regions. These factors make the identification of cells in the brain responsible for a given drug effect difficult to distinguish. This is true of even the most simple behaviors, which involve complex interactions between millions of cells. For these reasons, the understanding of the processes underlying addiction is incomplete; however, significant progress has been made during the past 20 years. For example, it is generally believed that there are brain systems that are dedicated to the processes underlying euphoria and feelings of well-being that are stimulated by abused drugs.

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