Neural pathway is the connection formed by axons that project from neurons to make synapses onto neurons in another location, to enable a signal to be sent from one region of the nervous system to another. Neurons are connected by a single axon, or by a bundle of axons known as a nerve tract, or fasciculus.
Shorter neural pathways are found within grey matter in the brain, whereas longer projections, made up of myelinated axons, constitute white matter.
In the hippocampus there are neural pathways involved in its circuitry including the perforant pathway, that provides a connectional route from the entorhinal cortex to all fields of the hippocampal formation, including the dentate gyrus, all CA fields (including CA1), and the subiculum.
Descending motor pathways of the pyramidal tracts travel from the cerebral cortex to the brainstem or lower spinal cord. Ascending sensory tracts in the dorsal column–medial lemniscus pathway (DCML) carry information from the periphery to the cortex of the brain.
In general, neurons receive information either at their dendrites or cell bodies. The axon of a nerve cell is, in general, responsible for transmitting information over a relatively long distance. Therefore, most neural pathways are made up of axons.
If the axons have myelin sheaths, then the pathway appears bright white because myelin is primarily lipid. If most or all of the axons lack myelin sheaths (i.e., are unmyelinated), then the pathway will appear a darker beige color, which is generally called grey.
Some neurons are responsible for conveying information over long distances. For example, motor neurons, which travel from the spinal cord to the muscle, can have axons up to a meter in length in humans.
The longest axon in the human body belongs to the Sciatic Nerve and runs from the great toe to the base of the spinal cord. These are archetypal examples of neural pathways.
Neural pathways in the basal ganglia in the cortico-basal ganglia-thalamo-cortical loop, are seen as controlling different aspects of behaviour. This regulation is enabled by the dopamine pathways.
It has been proposed that the dopamine system of pathways is the overall organiser of the neural pathways that are seen to be parallels of the dopamine pathways. Dopamine is provided both tonically and phasically in response to the needs of the neural pathways.
Major neural pathways
• Arcuate fasciculus
• Cerebral peduncle
• Corpus callosum
• Pyramidal tracts – corticospinal and corticobulbar tracts
• Medial forebrain bundle
• Dorsal column–medial lemniscus pathway
• Retinohypothalamic tract is a photic neural input pathway involved in the circadian rhythms.