Neurons are essential to the functioning of our brain, which means that they are fundamental to life itself. Thanks to them we can carry out all the activities that we intend to do, and that is why our organism is in charge of protecting them properly.

In this article we will talk about the process known as myelinization one of the most important aspects of the life of neurons. We will see what it consists of, what its characteristics are and the effect it has on neurons and the nervous system.

What is myelinization?

The process of myelination consists of coating the axons (cylinder-shaped parts of the neurons) with a substance called myelin or myelin sheath , which is responsible for providing protection specifically to these parts of the neuron.

This coating process begins very early, just in the second trimester of pregnancy, and lasts for our entire lives. It is important that it occurs in an adequate manner so that the nerve stimuli that our brain sends through the neurons circulate correctly.

The myelin sheath is a substance that serves as an insulator in the neuronal axon . This element is of organic origin and its state is fatty (lipid).

Axons where there is no myelin coating (amyelinics) have a lower capacity to conduct on the electrical phenomena sent by the brain along the entire central nervous system.

Characteristics of this nervous system process

The covering of the neuronal extensions is fundamentally a natural protection mechanism that our nervous system has to preserve and facilitate the electrical impulses that travel through the neurons, which are in charge of the mental processes in all their categories.

Neurons are not only concerned with higher mental functions , but also with all the reactions we humans have, to any stimulus, whether internal or external.

In addition, it is also an indispensable process for learning, especially in the initial phases where neurons interconnect with each other, to create what is known as neuronal batteries.

Contrary to what many believe, it is not the number of neurons we have that most influences our learning, but the way they connect to each other. If we have neurons that are not capable of establishing a good synapse between them, then it will be very difficult for knowledge to solidify.

But if, on the contrary, the synapse is good, all the information we obtain from the environment around us will be internalized in the best possible way by our higher mental processes. This happens largely through myelinization.

Its effects

As mentioned above, the myelin sheath serves to ensure that nerve impulses are conducted at the right speed, and also avoids the risk of them stopping at the axons before reaching their destination .

In case the axons are not adequately covered by myelin through the myelinization process, either because the process did not occur or because the substance has deteriorated, then a malfunctioning of the central nervous system may occur , depending on the area where the amyelinic neuronal axon is located.

It can happen that peripheral sensitivity is lost or that a central sensitization process occurs, which consists of a disproportionate functioning of the sensations we receive, especially at the pain threshold, which is greatly diminished (while other sensations, which should not generally represent any painful stimulus for the body, cause a fictitious sensation of pain), among other alterations of perception, where synaesthesia and agnosia are found.

Tips to preserve our brain cells

Feeding is key for the neurons, and for the coating process to happen and be properly maintained in the axons of the neurons, during the first stages of development in children we must ensure that they receive a correct feeding .

Learning new things generates neural batteries that become stronger and stronger if we keep practicing what we have learned, this is a good way to preserve and maintain our brain neurons functional.

Finally, there’s the dream. It is important to have good sleep habits so that our brain gets a good rest and thus the neurons have a longer and more efficient life.

Bibliographic references:

  • Arroyo, E.J. et al. On the molecular architecture of myelinated fibers. Histochemistry and cell biology. 113(1):1-18.
  • Raine CS (1999). “Characteristics of Neuroglia”. In Siegel GJ, Agranoff BW, Albers RW, Fisher SK, Uhler MD. Basic Neurochemistry: Molecular, Cellular and Medical Aspects (6th ed.). Philadelphia: Lippincott-Raven.