Speed is a defining characteristic of the nervous system; understanding its basis is the primary goal of cell neurobiology. When you see an event, you think that you see it the instant it happens. But what do you mean by an "instant?" It is a time so brief that we could not tell if something happened sooner; it is a time determined by the speed of the nervous system. During that instant, a series of neurons, conversing at synapses, are activated sequentially and they each transmit a signal, called an action potential, over long distances. Action potentials and synaptic transmission are controlled by membrane proteins called ion channels. The energy source is the array of transmembrane ionic gradients maintained by proteins called ion pumps.
These channels and pumps are the molecular targets of research in cell neurobiology. The goals of those studying cellular neuroscience are to describe the structural properties of these channels and pumps, the basis of their chemical and electrical control mechanisms, their function on individual neurons and synapses, and their spatial localization on cells. Methods include microelectric recordings from individual cells, advanced microscopic methods, immunocytochemistry, and the biochemical and molecular methods common to all studies of protein function.