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A typical neuron with cell body, dendrites, and axon. Ligand gated ion channels are found predominantly on the nerve cell membrane.

Ions can flow across the nerve cell membrane through channels such as nongated ion channnels, ligand-gated ion channels, and voltage-gated ion channels. Ligand gated ion channels are proteins that open to allow ions such as Na+, K+, Ca2+ or Cl- to pass through the cell membrane in response to a ligand such as a neurotransmitter. For example, the nicotinic acetylcholine receptor channel found in the neuromuscular junction is a ligand-gated ion channel that is opened by an extracellular ligand (acetylcholine). Ligand-gated channels, located at sites of synaptic contact are found predominantly on dendritic spines, dendrites, and somata of nerve cells, or neurons.

Ligand gated ion channels are classified into three superfamilies which lack evolutionary relationship: Cys-loop receptors, Ionotropic glutamate receptors, and ATP-gated channels. The cys-loop family includes the glycine receptor, the nicotinic acetylcholine receptor, serotonin, the zinc activated ion channel and the GABA receptor, which can regulate the cell cycle.

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