Developing Brain of 20 Week Old Fetus

Video Topic : Developing Brain of 20 Week Old Fetus : Micro Magnetic Resonance Imaging based, stylized visualization of a fetus at 20 weeks in utero. The fetus can be seen resting within the amniotic cavity. The camera slowly zooms into the fetus' head to reveal the brain under the translucent skin. Though the shape is close to its final one, it still lacks definition and is still smooth. Its development is ongoing years after birth.

The Growing Brain

Inside the Brain: Neurons & Neural Circuits

Neurons are the basic working unit of the brain and nervous system. These cells are highly specialized for the function of conducting messages.

A neuron has three basic parts:

  • Cell body
    which includes the nucleus, cytoplasm, and cell organelles. The nucleus contains DNA and information that the cell needs for growth, metabolism, and repair. Cytoplasm is the substance that fills a cell, including all the chemicals and parts needed for the cell to work properly including small structures called cell organelles.
  • Dendrites
    branch off from the cell body and act as a neuron's point of contact for receiving chemical and electrical signals called impulses from neighboring neurons.
  • Axon
    which sends impulses and extends from cell bodies to meet and deliver impulses to another nerve cell. Axons can range in length from a fraction of an inch to several feet.

Illustration of axon terminal and neuron with highlight of synapse

Each neuron is enclosed by a cell membrane, which separates the inside contents of the cell from its surrounding environment and controls what enters and leaves the cell, and responds to signals from the environment; this all helps the cell maintain its balance with the environment.

Synapses are tiny gaps between neurons, where messages move from one neuron to another as chemical or electrical signals.

The brain begins as a small group of cells in the outer layer of a developing embryo. As the cells grow and differentiate, neurons travel from a central "birthplace" to their final destination. Chemical signals from other cells guide neurons in forming various brain structures. Neighboring neurons make connections with each other and with distant nerve cells (via axons) to form brain circuits. These circuits control specific body functions such as sleep and speech.

The brain continues maturing well into a person's early 20s. Knowing how the brain is wired and how the normal brain's structure develops and matures helps scientists understand what goes wrong in mental illnesses.

Scientists have already begun to chart how the brain develops over time in healthy people and are working to compare that with brain development in people mental disorders. Genes and environmental cues both help to direct this growth.

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) is part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH)

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