What Is a Cell Body? - Definition, Function & Types

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  • 0:00 What Is a Neuron?
  • 0:21 The Cell Body
  • 0:45 Functions of the Cell Body
  • 2:10 Types of Cell Bodies
  • 2:54 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Amanda Robb

Amanda holds a Masters in Science from Tufts Medical School in Cellular and Molecular Physiology. She has taught high school Biology and Physics for 8 years.

Expert Contributor
Maria Airth

Maria has a Doctorate of Education and over 20 years of experience teaching psychology and math related courses at the university level.

Ever wonder what controls all the cells in your brain? In this lesson, you will learn about the control center for each neuron in your brain, the cell body.

What Is a Neuron?

Your brain is made up of millions of cells called neurons. Neurons make connections with each other to create pathways that control all aspects of life, such as bodily functions, emotions, and movement. Each neuron is composed of three parts: the cell body, dendrites, and an axon. Today, we'll look more closely at the cell body.


The Cell Body

The cell body, also called the soma, is the spherical part of the neuron that contains the nucleus. The cell body connects to the dendrites, which bring information to the neuron, and the axon, which sends information to other neurons. When information is received from another neuron, the dendrites pass the signal to the cell body. The cell body then may send the information to the axon, depending on the strength of the signal.

Functions of the Cell Body

The job of the cell body is to control all of the functions of the cell. It contains several important organelles that help it do this. Organelles are tiny organs in the cell that each do a specific job. The most important organelle in the cell body is the nucleus. The nucleus contains the cell's DNA and regulates all processes in the cell. The cell needs DNA to act as a blueprint to direct cellular activity. The nucleus also contains the nucleolus, which makes ribosomes needed for protein production.

In addition to ribosomes, the cell body also contains the endoplasmic reticulum and the Golgi apparatus. These organelles all work together to help make, package, and sort proteins to the other parts of the cell. Proteins are the building blocks of the cell. They allow neurons to build new axons and dendrites to make new connections with other neurons, and they make the chemicals that neurons need to send signals. The cell body is the manufacturing plant for these very important compounds.


In the image, there are also mitochondria. Mitochondria are the powerhouses of the cell. They make all the energy the cell needs to carry out its function. Neurons need energy to send and receive signals from other neurons. Microtubules are long chains of protein that the cells use to transport materials. The soma is the starting point for these protein highways in the cell. The microtubules run down the length of the axon to bring it important supplies, like the neurotransmitters that are used to send signals between neurons.

Types of Cell Bodies

There are more than one type of neuron and, thus, more than one type of cell body. Bipolar neurons have the cell body located in the middle with one axon and one dendrite coming from each end. Unipolar neurons have a projection connecting it to both the axon and the dendrite instead of both attaching directly to the cell body. Multipolar neurons have the cell body attached to a long axon and many dendrites.

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Additional Activities

Doctor Frankenstein's Cell Body

Students will use creativity and their understanding of how parts of a neuron function, especially the cell body, to build a Frankenstein-esque neuron.

The Story Line

You are a mad scientist and belong to a group of mad scientists that have decided to use random items commonly found in the environment to build a new monster. You have been assigned the task of reconstructing a neuron with particular emphasis on the cell body.

You must choose items that will function as the parts of a neuron function and are scaled to each other to form a neuron. Your neuron can be overly large (as if enlarged under a microscope) or small. You just have to make sure that all the parts are scaled comparably to each other. For example,

  • You could use a bike tire to represent the cell body of a multipolar neuron with tree branches representing the dendrites. Other items that would work if a bike tire is chosen as the cell body are:
    • Beach ball for the nucleus
    • Long rope (jumping rope) for the axon
    • Cut pool noodles for the myelin sheaths
  • You could not use a bike tire to represent the cell body of a multipolar neuron with pipe cleaners representing the dendrites because the pipe cleaners would be too small in comparison to the tire. Other items that would be too small to be comparably scaled to the bike-tire cell body are:
    • Pebble for the nucleus (too small)
    • Dental floss for the axons (too small)
    • 50 gallon drums for the myelin sheaths (too large)
  • To help with sizing, reference the diagrams in the lesson. Notice that dendrites are about as large as the cell body but the nucleus fits within the cell body with plenty of room to spare. When choosing your items, try to keep a similar comparison scale between the items you choose to represent parts of the neuron.


Design a bipolar, unipolar, and multipolar neuron with a primary focus on the cell body and those parts of the neuron which are directly attached to the cell body. Include:

  • Annotation to identify which part of the neuron each item represents
  • Explanations for why each item was chosen and how it can function like the part of the neuron it represents. For example,
    • A tire can be a cell body because it is sturdy and able to contain fluid (as long as it is laying flat).
  • Ensure that you include an item for each part of the neuron mentioned in the 'Terms to Remember' section of the lesson.

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