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What is a Sensory Neuron?

Daniel Liden
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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A sensory neuron is a nervous system cell that is involved in the transportation of sensory neural impulses from receptors or sensory organs throughout the body. These neural impulses are sent to the brain and translated into an understandable form so that the organism can react to the stimuli. Such understandable forms include sensations of pain, heat, texture, and visual input. The proper reception of such stimuli is crucial to the survival of most organisms, as it keeps them informed of the world around them and allows them to respond accordingly.

A neuron is a cell that is specialized to carry neural information throughout the body; as such, it differs greatly from most cells. Structures known as dendrites are at one end of the nerve cell; these receive signals from other neurons or sources of sensory information. They are connected to the cell body, which contains the nucleus and other essential organelles that sustain the cell. The axon extends outward from the cell body toward wherever it needs to carry its sensory information; the longest axons in human cells can sometimes exceed 3.2 feet (1 meter) in length. The axon terminates at the axon terminal, which passes on the neural information to where it is needed.

A sensory neuron generally transmits its information toward the central nervous system, which is primarily contained in the brain and in parts of the spine. Sensory input, then, is received by the dendrites of the nerve cell and sent through the axon until it either reaches another and passes the signal off or it reaches its destination. Other kinds of cells have limited involvement in this process, making neurons the primary functional part of the nervous system.

There are three primary types of neurons: afferent, efferent, and interneurons. Those that transmit sensory information are afferent neurons, meaning that they take information from sensory organs or tissues and communicate it to the brain. Efferent neurons carry impulses from the central nervous system to other parts of the body and most notably include motor neurons. Interneurons simply connect other neurons, allowing them to reach their destinations in the most effective way possible.

Sensory neurons do not always send their information to the brain, though they typically do in complex organisms, such as humans. In a simple organism lacking a complex central nervous system, they may simply send their information directly to a motor neuron. This allows for a rapid reaction without intensive processing of stimuli.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Daniel Liden
By Daniel Liden , Former Writer
Daniel Liden, a talented writer with a passion for cutting-edge topics and data analysis, brings a unique perspective to his work. With a diverse academic background, he crafts compelling content on complex subjects, showcasing his ability to effectively communicate intricate ideas. He is skilled at understanding and connecting with target audiences, making him a valuable contributor.

Discussion Comments

By GigaGold — On Feb 27, 2011


As we begin to understand the brain on a deeper level, we are learning how to best apply the miracle of human understanding to computers and machines. The greatest difficulty that we will probably encounter is the human phenomenon of innovation. How do we create new things out of our thought processes and implement new ideas? If we can program computers to be able to do this kind of thinking, there is no measure to the effects it may have.

By BostonIrish — On Feb 25, 2011

The intricate process of how we receive and respond to signals from neurons is both chemical and elecrical. Synapses transmit signals to the different parts of the brain, being fueled by blood flow in a vast network that functions somewhat like a computer.

By JavaGhoul — On Feb 23, 2011

The nerves which hurt the most are located in the brain. This is because all signals from the entire body are trasmitted to the brain via the spine. The nervous system is made up of neurons which react and respond to signals from many different locations. Some of these responses are a result of the conscious voluntary action of the brain making decisions. Other responses are a result of unconscious signals. This is why people normally jerk their hand back quickly upon feeling a hot surface.

Daniel Liden

Daniel Liden

Former Writer

Daniel Liden, a talented writer with a passion for cutting-edge topics and data analysis, brings a unique perspective to...
Learn more
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