Found mainly in the brain and spinal cord, interneurons connect one neuron with another to pass signals, around the nervous system. When you instinctively yank your hand away from a hot stove, it’s thanks to a series of interneurons that pass along pain signals from nerve endings in your skin to motor neurons controlling the muscles in your hand. The quick work of these networkers can keep you from getting a deeper burn.
Interneurons also play a role stabilizing other neurons, keeping them from getting overexcited. For example, researchers have found that fear in mice caused by scary sounds corresponds with lowered activity in what are known as parvalbumin interneurons. This suggests that, when the mouse isn’t frightened, that peace of mind is thanks in part to the calming effect of these interneurons.
Charlie Wood is a science writer with a bachelor’s degree in physics from Brown University and a master’s degree in science journalism from New York University. In previous lives he taught physics in Mozambique and English in Japan, but these days he freelances from his home in New York.
Burrows M, Siegler MV. Spiking local interneurons mediate local reflexes. Science Magazine. Vol. 217, Issue 4560, pp. 650-652 (1982).
Courtin J, Chaudun F, Rozeske RR, Karalis N, Gonzalez-Campo C, et al. Prefrontal parvalbumin interneurons shape neuronal activity to drive fear expression. Nature. 505(7481):92-6 (2014).
Markram H, Toledo-Rodriguez M, Wang Y, Gupta A, Silberberg G, et al. Interneurons of the neocortical inhibitory system. Nature Reviews Neuroscience. 5(10):793-807 (2004).
Popular articles on BrainFacts.org
Check out the Image of the Week Archive.
Check out the latest news from the field.
See how discoveries in the lab have improved human health.
Some pages on this website provide links that require Adobe Reader to view.