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Nervous system

The nervous system is a complex network of nerves and cells that carry messages to and from the brain and spinal cord to various parts of the body. The nervous system includes both the Central nervous system and Peripheral nervous system. The Central nervous system is made up of the brain and spinal cord and The Peripheral nervous system is made up of the Somatic and the Autonomic nervous systems.

Central nervous system (CNS): The central nervous system is that part of the nervous system that consists of the brain and spinal cord. The central nervous system (CNS) is one of the two major divisions of the nervous system. The other is the peripheral nervous system (PNS) which is outside the brain and spinal cord. The peripheral nervous system (PNS) connects the central nervous system (CNS) to sensory organs (such as the eye and ear), other organs of the body, muscles, blood vessels and glands. The peripheral nerves include the 12 cranial nerves, the spinal nerves and roots, and what are called the autonomic nerves that are concerned specifically with the regulation of theheart muscle, the muscles in blood vessel walls, and glands.


Parts and functions of the brain

The nervous system is your body's decision and communication centre. The central nervous system (CNS) is made of the brain and the spinal cord and the peripheral nervous system (PNS) are made of nerves. Together they control every part of your daily life, from breathing and blinking to helping you memorize facts for a test. Nerves reach from your brain to your face, ears, eyes, nose, and spinal cord... and from the spinal cord to the rest of your body. Sensory nerves gather information from the environment; send that info to the spinal cord, which then speed the message to the brain. The brain then makes sense of that message and fires off a response. Motor neurons deliver the instructions from the brain to the rest of your body. The spinal cord, made of a bundle of nerves running up and down the spine, is similar to a superhighway, speeding messages to and from the brain at every second.

The brain is made of three main parts: the forebrain, midbrain, and hindbrain. The forebrain consists of the cerebrum, thalamus, and hypothalamus (part of the limbic system). The midbrain consists of the tectum and tegmentum. The hindbrain is made of the cerebellum, pons and medulla. Often the midbrain, pons, and medulla are referred to together as the brainstem.

The Forebrain

The forebrain is the largest part of the brain, most of which is made up of the cerebrum. Other important structures found in the forebrain include the thalamus, the hypothalamus and the limbic system.

The cerebrum, also known as the telencephalon, is the largest and most highly developed part of the human brain. It encompasses about two-thirds of the brain mass and lies over and around most of the structures of the brain. The outer portion (1.5mm to 5mm) of the cerebrum is covered by a thin layer of gray tissue called the cerebral cortex. The cerebrum is divided into right and left hemispheres that are connected by the corpus callosum. Each hemisphere is in turn divided into four lobes. The cerebrum or telencephalon, along with the diencephal on comprise the two major divisions of prosencephalon(forebrain).

Function: The cerebrum is involved in several functions of the body including: Determining Intelligence Determining Personality Thinking Perceiving Producing and Understanding Language Interpretation of Sensory Impulses Motor Function Planning and Organization Touch Sensation

Location: Directionally, the cerebrum and the cortex that covers it is the uppermost part of the brain. It is the anterior portion of the forebrain and is superior to other brain structures such as the pons, cerebellum and medulla oblongata. The cerebral cortex is divided into four sections, called "lobes": the frontal lobe, parietal lobe, occipital lobe, and temporal lobe. Here is a visual representation of the cortex:

Lobes of the brain

Frontal Lobe- associated with reasoning, planning, parts of speech, movement, emotions, and problem solving Parietal Lobe- associated with movement, orientation, recognition, perception of stimuli Occipital Lobe- associated with visual processing Temporal Lobe- associated with perception and recognition of auditory stimuli, memory, and speech

Limbic System
The limbic system is a complex set of structures that lies on both sides of the thalamus, just under the cerebrum. It includes the hypothalamus, the hippocampus, the amygdala, and several others nearby areas. It appears to be primarily responsible for our emotional life, and has a lot to do with the formation of memories. In this drawing, you are looking at the brain cut in half, but with the brain stem intact. The part of the limbic system shown is that which is along the left side of the thalamus (hippocampus and amygdala) and just under the front of the thalamus (hypothalamus):

Hypothalamus The hypothalamus is a small part of the brain located just below the thalamus on both sides of the third ventricle. (The ventricles are areas within the cerebrum that are filled with cerebrospinal fluid, and connect to the fluid in the spine.) It sits just inside the two tracts of the optic nerve, and just above (and intimately connected with) the pituitary gland. The hypothalamus is one of the busiest parts of the brain, and is mainly concerned with homeostasis. Homeostasis is the process of returning something to some set point. It works like a thermostat: When your room gets too cold, the thermostat conveys that information to the furnace and turns it on. As your room warms up and the temperature gets beyond a certain point, it sends a signal that tells the furnace to turn off. The hypothalamus is responsible for regulating your hunger, thirst, response to pain, levels of pleasure, sexual satisfaction, anger and aggressive behavior, and more. It also regulates the functioning of the autonomic nervous system (see below), which in turn means it regulates things like pulse, blood pressure, breathing, and arousal in response to emotional circumstances. The hypothalamus receives inputs from a number of sources. From the vagus nerve, it gets information about blood pressure and the distension of the gut (that is, how full your stomach is). From the reticular formation in the brainstem, it gets information about skin temperature. From the optic nerve, it gets information about light and darkness. From unusual neurons lining the ventricles, it gets information about the contents of the cerebrospinal fluid, including toxins that lead to vomiting. And from the other parts of the limbic system and the olfactory (smell) nerves, it gets information that helps regulate eating and sexuality. The hypothalamus also has some receptors of its own, that provide information about ion balance and temperature of the blood. In one of the more recent discoveries, it seems that there is a protein called leptin which is released by fat cells when we overeat. The hypothalamus apparently senses the levels of leptin in the bloodstream and responds by decreasing appetite. It would seem that some people have a mutation in a gene which produces leptin, and their bodies cant tell the hypothalamus that they have had enough to eat. However, many overweight people do not have this mutation, so there is still a lot of research to do! The hypothalamus sends instructions to the rest of the body in two ways. The first is to the autonomic nervous system. This allows the hypothalamus to have ultimate control of things like blood pressure, heartrate, breathing, digestion, sweating, and all the sympathetic and parasympathetic functions. The other way the hypothalamus controls things is via the pituitary gland. It is neurally and chemically connected to the pituitary, which in turn pumps hormones called releasing factors into the bloodstream. As you know, the pituitary is the so-called master gland, and these hormones are vitally important in regulating growth and metabolism. Hippocampus

The hippocampus consists of two horns that curve back from the amygdala. It appears to be very important in converting things that are in your mind at the moment (in shortterm memory) into things that you will remember for the long run (long-term memory). If the hippocampus is damaged, a person cannot build new memories, and lives instead in a strange world where everything they experience just fades away, even while older memories from the time before the damage are untouched! This very unfortunate situation is fairly accurately portrayed in the wonderful movie Memento, as well as in a more light-hearted movie, 50 First Dates. But there is nothing light-hearted about it: Most people who suffer from this kind of brain damage end up institutionalized. Amygdala The amygdalas are two almond-shaped masses of neurons on either side of the thalamus at the lower end of the hippocampus. When it is stimulated electrically, animals respond with aggression. And if the amygdala is removed, animals get very tame and no longer respond to things that would have caused rage before. But there is more to it than just anger: When removed, animals also become indifferent to stimuli that would have otherwise have caused fear and even sexual responses. Related areas Besides the hypothalamus, hippocampus, and amygdala, there are other areas in the structures near to the limbic system that are intimately connected to it: The cingulate gyrus is the part of the cerebrum that lies closest to the limbic system, just above the corpus collosum. It provides a pathway from the thalamus to the hippocampus, seems to be responsible for focusing attention on emotionally significant events, and for associating memories to smells and to pain. The ventral tegmental area of the brain stem (just below the thalamus) consists of dopamine pathways that seem to be responsible for pleasure. People with damage here tend to have difficulty getting pleasure in life, and often turn to alcohol, drugs, sweets, and gambling. The basal ganglia (including the caudate nucleus, the putamen, the globus pallidus, and the substantia nigra) lie over and to the sides of the limbic system, and are tightly connected with the cortex above them. They are responsible for repetitive behaviors, reward experiences, and focusing attention. If you are interested in learning more about the basal ganglia, click here. The prefrontal cortex, which is the part of the frontal lobe which lies in front of the motor area, is also closely linked to the limbic system. Besides apparently being involved in thinking about the future, making plans, and taking action, it also appears to be involved in the same dopamine pathways as the ventral tegmental area, and plays a part in pleasure and addiction.

The thalamus is a large, dual lobed mass of grey matter buried under the cerebral cortex. It is involved in sensory perception and regulation of motor functions. The thalamus is a limbic system structure and it connects areas of the cerebral cortex that are involved in sensory perception and movement with other parts of the brain and spinal cord that also have a role in sensation and movement. As a regulator of sensory information, the thalamus also controls sleep and awake states of consciousness. Function: The thalamus is involved in several functions of the body including: Motor Control Receives Auditory, Somatosensory and Visual Sensory Signals Relays Sensory Signals to the Cerebral Cortex Controls Sleep and Awake States

Location: Directionally, the thalamus is situated at the top of the brainstem, between the cerebral cortex and midbrain. It is superior to the hypothalamus.


The hypothalamus is a small but important part of the brain. It contains several small nuclei with a variety of functions. It plays an important role in the nervous system as well

as in the endocrine system. It is linked to another small and vital gland called the pituitary gland.

Hypothalamus location
The hypothalamus is located below the thalamus and right above the brain stem. It forms the anterior part of the diencephalon. All vertebrate brains contain a hypothalamus. In humans, it is roughly the size of an almond.

Functions of the hypothalamus

The hypothalamus is vital for living as it plays a very important role. It controls certain metabolic processes and other activities of the Autonomic Nervous System. It synthesizes and secretes neurohormones, often called hypothalamic-releasing hormones. These hypothalamic releasing hormones control and regulate the secretion of pituitary hormones. Functions of the hypothalamus can be listed as: controls the release of 8 major hormones by the pituitary gland controls body temperature control of food and water intake, hunger and thirst control of sexual behavior and reproduction control of daily cycles in physiological state and behaviour also known as circadian rhythm mediation of emotional responses

Anatomy and actions

The hypothalamus contains a large number of nuclei and fiber tracts. The cells in the two major nuclei secrete vasopressin (ADH, antidiuretic hormone), oxytocin, and CRH (corticotropin releasing hormone). The two major nuclei are the supraoptic and paraventricular nuclei. ADH and oxytocin are then transported down the axons from cells in the supraoptic and paraventricular nuclei through the infundibulum to the neurohypophysis (posterior pituitary), where they are released into the blood stream. This pathway is termed the supraopticohypophysial tract. Damage to the anterior hypothalamus blocks the production of ADH. This leads to a condition where the kidney fails to conserve water and the condition is called diabetes insipidus. CRH is released by the paraventricular nuclei and taken up by the portal system where it has action on the anterior lobe of the pituitary. There are connections with the eye and the brain. The connections between the retina to the suprachiasmatic nucleus deals with the synchronization of the daily rhythms also known as circadian rhythms. Any lesion or disease of the hypothalamus thus affects the sleep-waking cycle.

The midbrain also called the mesencephalon is a multi-faceted, subcortical level of the brain. Through the body of the midbrain pass a substantial number of various fiber tracts especially related to vision, voluntary muscle activity and other important funcions. The midbrain is consists of the tectum and tegmentum.

The tectum is in the dorsal part of the midbrain. The superior colliculi are a part of the visual system and are involved in visual reflexes and reactions to moving stimuli. The inferior colliculi appear as four bumps on the dorsal surface of the brain stem and are a part of the auditory system.

The tegmentum sits beneath the tectum. Reticular formation The reticular formation ('little net') is a large and complex structure of over 90 nuclei that sits at the core of the brain stem. It connects with the cerebral cortex, the thalamus and the spinal cord. It is involved in sleep, arousal, attention, movement and various basic reflexes.

Red nucleus
The red nucleus is involved in motor coordination, particularly the shoulder and upper arm.

Substantia nigra (SN)

The substantia nigra ('black substance') is so called because of the higher levels of melanin in its dopaminergic neurons. The pars compacta is mainly an input to the basal ganglia circuit, supplying the striatum with dopamine. The pars reticulata, is mainly an output, sending signals to many other brain structures The substantia nigra plays an important role in eye movement, reward seeking, addiction and movement planning. The nigrostriatal pathway originates in the substantia nigra. Parkinson's disease is caused by the death of dopaminergic neurons in the pars compacta.

Ventral tegmental area (VTA)

The Ventral tegmental area, or ventral tegmentum, is a group of dopaminergic cells that are the origin of the mesolimbic dopamine pathway that is highly significant in reward and sensations of pleasure. It also includes GABA and glutamate neurons. It is also connected with the amygdala and may be connected with fear and avoidance.

The hindbrain is located toward the rear and lower portion of a persons brain. It is responsible for controlling a number of important body functions and process, including respiration andheart rate. The brain stem is an important part of the hindbrain, controlling functions that are critical to life, such as breathing and swallowing. The cerebellum is also part of the hindbrain, playing a role in physical ability. The brain stem is a structure that connects the brain to the spinal cord. Damage to this structure can be catastrophic, as the brain stem controls such things as blood pressure, heartbeat, and swallowing. The brain stem consists of three parts of the hindbrain, including the medulla, pons, and reticular formation. The medulla is the part of the hindbrain that controls how and when a persons heart beats, as well as his blood pressure, breathing, and even his ability to swallow or cough. This part of a persons brain stem functions by itself, without relying on the persons thoughts. It is the reason a persons heart beats without him making it do so. Its also the reason people breathe even when they are focused on other things. The hindbrain is made of the cerebellum, pons and medulla. Often the midbrain, pons, and medulla are referred to together as the brainstem


The pons forms a very small part of the brain, as it measures only around 2.5 cm in length. Most of it appears as a broad anterior bulge that is present above the medulla. However, one shouldn't be fooled by its size, as the pons is a very important part of the brain's pathways. On the posterior side, it consists mainly of two pairs of thick stalks which are known as cerebellar peduncles. It acts as an important sensory relay system which provides information to different parts of the nervous system like the cerebellum, cerebrum and even the spinal cord. The pons function is mostly to provide input to the cerebellar cortex through structures known as the pontine nuclei which allow the cerebellum to coordinate most of its control. The main function of pons is to basically act as a highway for relay of many signals to and from the cerebrum and the cerebellum. This is the center that acts as the point of origin for various nerves in the body, including the important cranial nerves. The different nerves that emerge from the pons include: Trigeminal nerve - This is the fifth cranial nerve which is both sensory and motor in nature. It is responsible for sensation on the face and it also innervates the muscles of the mandible, which are responsible for biting, chewing and swallowing food. Abducens nerve - This is a motor nerve which is responsible for sideways movement of the eyes. Facial nerve - This is a motor nerve which affects the muscles of facial expression, like muscles that help in smiling, raising eyebrows and bringing about various expressions on the face, like shock, fear, joy, etc. Vestibulocochlear nerve - This is a sensory nerve which has two parts the cochlear portion, which is involved with transmission of sound from the ear to the brain. The other part is the vestibular portion, which transmits information from the inner ear and helps in maintaining balance and coordination.

The primary function of pons is also to act as a motor relay center. Many of the descending nerve fibers of various tracts synapse in the region of the pons, which only go on to show how important pons function is. The importance of the pons cannot be underplayed for the simple reason that it is so closely associated with the brain stem. This is the region that is involved in basic life sustaining activities, like respiration, reflexes, etc. The apneustic center, which is located in the lower pons, is the center that stimulates inspiration of air and the pneumotaxic center, located in the upper pons, inhibits inspiration by decreasing the activity of the phrenic nerve. As a part of pons functions, it is said that the dorsal part of the midbrain and the brain stem is also an important center for consciousness and for maintaining alertness and fatigue levels of an individual. Hence, some experts believe that the pons may play a vital role in REM cycle, sleep and in arousal. This is the reason why brain stem injury is said to be a possibly lifethreatening injury.

Medulla Oblongata

The medulla oblongata is a structure found in the brains of vertebrate animals, including humans. This structure controls a number of autonomic functions, including respiration andblood pressure, making it a very critical part of the brain. Damage to the medulla oblongata can be fatal, as the patient will be unable to breathe, swallow, or perform other basic motor functions without assistance. This structure is also believed to be the key to how general anesthesia works, as the anesthetics depress the medulla oblongata so that it cannot function as it normally would. This region of the brain is located at the bottom of the brainstem, the structure which connects the brain and spinal cord. The medulla oblongata sits directly on top of the spinal cord, below the area of the brainstem known as the pons. In cross section, this region can be seen as a small bulge in the brain stem which is designed to accommodate a number of important nerves. In addition to regulating breathing and blood pressure, the medulla oblongata is also involved with cardiac function, various bodily secretions, swallowing, and reflexes. The functions regulated by the medulla oblongata take place at all hours of the day without

any need for input from the rest of the brain. The medulla oblongata is also involved in the response to certain stimuli, creating reflexive responses which are designed to keep the body functioning. The ability to respond automatically to certain stimuli is critical to survival, as is the independent regulation of necessary functions like breathing and swallowing. People who experience brain damage can still have functioning bodies, as long as the medulla oblongata is working. Damage to the medulla oblongata can result in the need for a ventilator or other supportive equipment to keep the body working. Depending on the nature of the damage, it may be possible to recover, or the patient may be considered to be brain dead or in a persistent vegetative state from which there is no possibility of recovery. When life support is withdrawn, the body will cease to function. A variety of drugs and medications can cause changes in the function of the medulla oblongata, which can sometimes result in physical states which resemble death. Opiates and alcohol can both cause dysfunctions until the body is able to express these substances, and in cases of overdose, it is possible to die because this area of the brain is not able to function normally. Sedatives can cause similar effects, as can hypothermia and coma.

Characteristics of Left and Right Hemispheres

Left Hemisphere
Controls right motor and sensory activities. Is the location of reacting, language, and handwriting. Have the centers for speech and hearing.

Right Hemisphere Controls left motor and sensory activities. Is the location of special relationships, artistic expression, and visualization. Right Hemisphere Style

Left Hemisphere Style

Linear Holistic Processes information from part to Processes information from whole whole to part - starts with the answer and takes pieces, lines them up, sees the big picture, not the details, and first. arranges them in a logical order, then it draws conclusion. Sequential Random Is a list maker and would enjoy Flits from one task to another. making a master schedule and Gets many things done but without doing daily planning. having addressed priorities. Completes tasks in order and takes pleasure in checking them off when they are accomplished.

Symbolic Have no trouble processing symbols such as letters, words, and mathematical notations. Is good ad memorizing. Prefers distinctions. Logical Makes decisions based on logic proof. Looks at differences. Is planned and structured. Prefers established, certain information. Prefers talking and writing. Prefers multiple choice tests. Sees cause and effect Verbal Has little trouble expressing him/her in words.

Concrete Wants to see, feel, or touch real objects. Prefers to see words in context and how formulas work. Prefers connectedness. Intuitive Makes decisions based on gut feeling what feels right. Is fluid and spontaneous Prefers elusive, uncertain information. Prefers drawing and manipulating objects. Prefers open ended questions. See resemblance Non-Verbal Knows what something means but often has trouble finding the right words Needs to back everything up visually write things down. Fantasy-Oriented Is creative. Remembers well anything he/she becomes emotionally involved in during the learning process. Is sometimes unaware of consequences

Reality-Based Deals with things the way they are. Wants to know the rules and follow them. Adjusts to the environment. Makes up rules to follow when there are no rules.

Characteristics of Left and Right Handed Individual

Given the information of whether a person is right-handed or left-handed, you can get some basic ideas of what they are like overall. Different traits of the human personality are controlled by the brain - specifically, by either the right side of the brain, or the left side. Since there is a cross-over of our brain's wiring system or nerve network, fibers from the left side of the brain rule activities on the right side of the body. And vice versa. As a result, we can easily determine whether a person is ruled by their right brain or their left brain by simply noticing which hand they use for writing. A left-handed person is ruled by their right brain; and a right-handed person is ruled by their left brain. Now, given that fact, we can get a running idea of the general strengths and weaknesses and career preferences that a certain individual is likely to have based on known traits ruled by the right and left sides of the brain. Research has shown that the right side of the brain regulates artistic activities such as painting, music, theatre, dance, writing, etc. Consequently, you may notice that there are a number of lefties who choose artistic careers. Right-brained people are better able to work with the imagination to develop creative solutions to problems. They are generally spontaneous individuals who respond emotionally to circumstances. And, they have a way of creating art out of thin air. They are the type of people who see all the colors of the rainbow, can distinguish the scents of blossoms in the air, and dream in color. On the other hand, persons ruled by their left brain are likely to be the alter-ego of the right-brained individuals. They are "Mr. Spocks" of the planet who fathom the unfathomable through the use of logic and sharp analyses. They are the mathematicians and the scientists, the doctors, and the communicators. They perfect the art of nitpicking, and analyze every word that comes out of another's mouth. In the decision making process, they calculate each step and analyze the results of their "research" before proceeding to the next step. Their actions are slower, thought-out, and decisive. And they put little stock in the emotional aspect of decision making. Although no one "perfectly" fits the right-side/left-side personality, they are likely to show one or more traits of either one or the other's dominance. Generally speaking, if you are right handed, you are more likely to have dominated traits ruled by the left side of the brain. You probably are more detail-oriented, less emotional, decisive, and you base your actions on logic. Chances are, you enjoy or do well at a detail-oriented job and are able to

handle a strict budget, balancing you check book with ease. You analyze situations and people, as well as words and conversations. And, you are more likely to see the cold, hard facts of reality in a black and white fashion based on observation, logic, and analysis. If you're a lefty, you tend to be the opposite of the right handed individual in many ways. You base your thoughts and beliefs on feelings more than on cold, hard facts. You use your active imagination to carry you through the good and bad times in life, and are easily able to empathize with individuals less fortunate than yourself because you can literally "put yourself in their shoes." While your alter ego is able to run detailed errands with ease, however, you find these tasks mundane and are more likely to excel in jobs that require the use of your vital imagination. Occupations such as theatre, art, music, and dance are valid choices for you. Your emotions play a large role in your decisions. And, while left-brained people are realistic, logic-driven and detail-oriented realists, you carry reality one step further by including dreams into the formula.

Are Left handed individuals abnormal?

Maybe unusual in that most people are right handed. But, as the saying goes, only left handed people are in their right mind. They are not abnormal in a sense because lefthanded individual only have most developed right brain hemisphere that able them to write or even to work with their left. They are some incident that left-handed individual might got used-to in using their left hand in such works.

What causes Left handedness?

An individual more skilled in using her left hand for day-to-day activities is known as a left-hander. Studies show that almost 10 to 13% adults in United States are lefties, and the number of males with left-handedness is higher than that of females. It is said that the condition is likely to develop in identical and fraternal twins, and those with neurological disorders like epilepsy and mental retardation. Left-handed people are said to have an edge in sports and other such activities. Normally, babies use both their hands and it is difficult to differentiate a left-handed one. A common belief is that, hand preference develop in children by the age of three, but according to recent researches, the preference may arise during the fetal stage itself. 90% of babies prefer to suck their right thumb than the left one, and this tendency later transforms to hand preference in their life. Even though, there is no specific cause for left-handedness, there are many theories supporting the same.

If both the parents are left-handed, the chances of having a left-handed offspring is higher than that of right-handed parents. If the parents are right-handed, there is only a 9% chance of having left-handed children. It is 26% for left-handed parents and 19% for a left-handed and right-handed couple.

Another contention is that too much exposure to the male hormone testosterone, during the fetal stage, may slow down the growth of left brain. In such cases, the right brain would be more developed than the left. As the right brain controls the left side of the body (and vice versa), the dominant right side would make the child a left-hander. This theory can support the fact that left-handers are more in males than in females, as the amount of testosterone is higher in the former. A recent development in this area is the discovery of the gene LRRTM1, which is said to be associated with the left-handedness of a person. The study also suggests that one particular form of this gene may increase the risk of psychotic mental disorders. Another speculation is about the role of ultrasound during pregnancy. It is said that ultrasound of uterus can affect the brain development of fetus, which causes childhood malignancies and left-handedness in the child. Some studies link this condition to difficult birth experiences and effects on the brain. The first point is supported by higher occurrences (20%) of left-handedness among twins, who undergo difficult births. The second point is backed by the fact that, 30% of mentally retarded kids are left-handed. Long term use of left hand by right-handers, due to some injury or impairment of the right hand, may turn them left-handed, even after the curing of the impairment. Here, long-term use means, for a period of eight months or more. Some kids may try to imitate their left-handed parents or baby-sitters and end up as lefties.

Hence, there is no specific reason for left-handedness. It can be said that hand preference can be attributed to partly genetic and partly environmental factors

Spinal Cord
The spine is made of 33 individual bones stacked one on top of the other. Ligaments and muscles connect the bones together and keep them aligned. The spinal column provides the main support for your body, allowing you to stand upright, bend, and twist. Protected deep inside the bones, the spinal cord connects your body to the brain, allowing movement of your arms and legs. Strong muscles and bones, flexible tendons and ligaments, and sensitive nerves contribute to a healthy spine. Keeping your spine healthy is vital if you want to live an active life without back pain.

Spinal curves
When viewed from the side, an adult spine has a natural S-shaped curve. The neck (cervical) and low back (lumbar) regions have a slight concave curve, and the thoracic and sacral regions have a gentle convex curve (Fig. 1). The curves work like a coiled spring to absorb shock, maintain balance, and allow range of motion throughout the spinal column.

Figure 1. The spine has three natural curves that form an S-shape; strong muscles keep our spine in alignment.

Figure 2. The five regions of the spinal column.

The muscles and correct posture maintain the natural spinal curves. Good posture involves training your body to stand, walk, sit, and lie so that the least amount of strain is placed on the spine during movement or weight-bearing activities (see Posture). Excess body weight, weak muscles, and other forces can pull at the spine's alignment:

An abnormal curve of the lumbar spine is lordosis, also called sway back. An abnormal curve of the thoracic spine is kyphosis, also called hunchback. An abnormal curve from side-to-side is called scoliosis.

Muscles The two main muscle groups that affect the spine are extensors and flexors. The extensor muscles enable us to stand up and lift objects. The extensors are attached to the back of the spine. The flexor muscles are in the front and include the abdominal muscles. These muscles enable us to flex, or bend forward, and are important in lifting and controlling the arch in the lower back. The back muscles stabilize your spine. Something as common

as poor muscle tone or a large belly can pull your entire body out of alignment. Misalignment puts incredible strain on the spine (see Exercise for a Healthy Back). Vertebrae Vertebrae are the 33 individual bones that interlock with each other to form the spinal column. The vertebrae are numbered and divided into regions: cervical, thoracic, lumbar, sacrum, and coccyx (Fig. 2). Only the top 24 bones are moveable; the vertebrae of the sacrum and coccyx are fused. The vertebrae in each region have unique features that help them perform their main functions.

Division and Function of Spinal Cord

Cervical (neck) - the main function of the cervical spine is to support the weight of the head (about 10 pounds). The seven cervical vertebrae are numbered C1 to C7. The neck has the greatest range of motion because of two specialized vertebrae that connect to the skull. The first vertebra (C1) is the ring-shaped atlas that connects directly to the skull. This joint allows for the nodding or yes motion of the head. The second vertebra (C2) is the peg-shaped axis, which has a projection called the odontoid, that the atlas pivots around. This joint allows for the side-to-side or no motion of the head. Thoracic (mid back) - the main function of the thoracic spine is to hold the rib cage and protect the heart and lungs. The twelve thoracic vertebrae are numbered T1 to T12. The range of motion in the thoracic spine is limited. Lumbar (low back) - the main function of the lumbar spine is to bear the weight of the body. The five lumbar vertebrae are numbered L1 to L5. These vertebrae are much larger in size to absorb the stress of lifting and carrying heavy objects. Sacrum - the main function of the sacrum is to connect the spine to the hip bones (iliac). There are five sacral vertebrae, which are fused together. Together with the iliac bones, they form a ring called the pelvic girdle. Coccyx region - the four fused bones of the coccyx or tailbone provide attachment for ligaments and muscles of the pelvic floor.

Figure 3. While vertebrae have unique regional features, every vertebra has three main parts: body (purple), vertebral arch (green), and processes for muscle attachment (tan).

a drum-shaped body designed to bear weight and withstand compression (purple) an arch-shaped bone that protects the spinal cord (green) star-shaped processes designed as outriggers for muscle attachment (tan)

Intervertebral discs Each vertebra in your spine is separated and cushioned by an intervertebral disc, keeping the bones from rubbing together. Discs are designed like a radial car tire. The outer ring, called the annulus, has criss-crossing fibrous bands, much like a tire tread. These bands attach between the bodies of each vertebra. Inside the disc is a gel-filled center called the nucleus, much like a tire tube (Fig. 4).

Figure 4. Intervertebral discs (purple) are made of a gel-filled center called the nucleus and a tough fibrous outer ring called the annulus. The annulus pulls the vertebral bodies together against the resistance of the gel-filled nucleus. Discs function like coiled springs. The criss-crossing fibers of the annulus pull the vertebral bodies together against the elastic resistance of the gel-filled nucleus. The nucleus acts like a ball-bearing when you move, allowing the vertebral bodies to roll over the incompressible gel. The gel-filled nucleus is composed mostly of fluid. This fluid absorbed during the night as you lie down and is pushed out during the day as you move upright. With age, our discs increasingly lose the ability to reabsorb fluid and become brittle and flatter; this is why we get shorter as we grow older. Also diseases, such as osteoarthritis and osteoporosis, cause bone spurs (osteophytes) to grow. Injury and strain can cause discs to bulge or herniate, a condition in which the nucleus is pushed out through the annulus to compress the nerve roots causing back pain. Vertebral arch & spinal canal On the back of each vertebra are bony projections that form the vertebral arch. The arch is made of two supporting pedicles and two laminae (Fig. 5). The hollow spinal canal contains the spinal cord, fat, ligaments, and blood vessels. Under each pedicle, a pair of

spinal nerves exits the spinal cord and pass through the intervertebral foramen to branch out to your body.

Figure 5. The vertebral arch (green) forms the spinal canal (blue) through which the spinal cord runs. Seven bony processes arise from the vertebral arch to form the facet joints and processes for muscle attachment. Surgeons often remove the lamina of the vertebral arch (laminectomy) to access and decompress the spinal cord and nerves to treat spinal stenosis, tumors, or herniated discs. Seven processes arise from the vertebral arch: the spinous process, two transverse processes, two superior facets, and two inferior facets. Facet joints The facet joints of the spine allow back motion. Each vertebra has four facet joints, one pair that connects to the vertebra above (superior facets) and one pair that connects to the vertebra below (inferior facets) (Fig. 6).

Figure 6. The superior and inferior facets connect each vertebra together. There are four facet joints associated with each vertebra.

Ligaments The ligaments are strong fibrous bands that hold the vertebrae together, stabilize the spine, and protect the discs. The three major ligaments of the spine are the ligamentum flavum, anterior longitudinal ligament (ALL), and posterior longitudinal ligament (PLL) (Fig. 7). The ALL and PLL are continuous bands that run from the top to the bottom of the spinal column along the vertebral bodies. They prevent excessive movement of the vertebral bones. The ligamentum flavum attaches between the lamina of each vertebra.

Figure 7. The ligamentum flavum, anterior longitudinal ligament (ALL), and posterior longitudinal ligament (PLL) allow the flexion and extension of the spine while keeping the vertebrae in alignment. The spinal cord is about 18 inches long and is the thickness of your thumb. It runs within the protective spinal canal from the brainstem to the 1st lumbar vertebra. At the end of the spinal cord, the cord fibers separate into the cauda equina and continue down through the spinal canal to your tailbone before branching off to your legs and feet. The spinal cord serves as an information super-highway, relaying messages between the brain and the body. The brain sends motor messages to the limbs and body through the spinal cord allowing for movement. The limbs and body send sensory messages to the brain through the spinal cord about what we feel and touch. Sometimes the spinal cord can react without sending information to the brain. These special pathways, called spinal reflexes, are designed to immediately protect our body from harm. The nerve cells that make up your spinal cord itself are called upper motor neurons. The nerves that branch off your spinal cord down your back and neck are called lower motor neurons. These nerves exit between each of your vertebrae and go to all parts of your body. Any damage to the spinal cord can result in a loss of sensory and motor function below the level of injury. For example, an injury to the thoracic or lumbar area may cause motor and sensory loss of the legs and trunk (called paraplegia). An injury to the cervical (neck) area may cause sensory and motor loss of the arms and legs (called tetraplegia, formerly known as quadriplegia).

Spinal nerves Thirty-one pairs of spinal nerves branch off the spinal cord. The spinal nerves act as telephone lines, carrying messages back and forth between your body and spinal cord to control sensation and movement. Each spinal nerve has two roots (Fig. 8). The ventral (front) root carries motor impulses from the brain and the dorsal (back) root carries sensory impulses to the brain. The ventral and dorsal roots fuse together to form a spinal nerve, which travels down the spinal canal, alongside the cord, until it reaches its exit hole - the intervertebral foramen (Fig. 9). Once the nerve passes through the intervertebral foramen, it branches; each branch has both motor and sensory fibers. The smaller branch (called the posterior primary ramus) turns posteriorly to supply the skin and muscles of the back of the body. The larger branch (called the anterior primary ramus) turns anteriorly to supply the skin and muscles of the front of the body and forms most of the major nerves.

Figure 8. The ventral (motor) and dorsal (sensory) roots join to form the spinal nerve. The spinal cord is covered by three layers of meninges: pia, arachnoid and dura mater. The spinal nerves are numbered according to the vertebrae above which it exits the spinal canal. The 8 cervical spinal nerves are C1 through C8, the 12 thoracic spinal nerves are T1 through T12, the 5 lumbar spinal nerves are L1 through L5, and the 5 sacral spinal nerves are S1 through S5. There is 1 coccygeal nerve.

Figure 9. The spinal nerves exit the spinal canal through the intervertebral foramen below each pedicle. The spinal nerves innervate specific areas and form a striped pattern across the body called dermatomes (Fig. 10). Doctors use this pattern to diagnose the location of a spinal problem based on the area of pain or muscle weakness. For example leg pain (sciatica) usually indicates a problem near the L4-S3 nerves.

Figure 10. A dermatome pattern shows which spinal nerves are responsible for sensory and motor control of specific areas of the body.

Coverings & spaces The spinal cord is covered with the same three membranes as the brain, called meninges. The inner membrane is the pia mater, which is intimately attached to the cord. The next membrane is the arachnoid mater. The outer membrane is the tough dura mater (Fig. 8). Between these membranes are spaces used in diagnostic and treatment procedures. The space between the pia and arachnoid mater is the wide subarachnoid space, which surrounds the spinal cord and contains cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). This space is most often accessed when performing a lumbar puncture to sample and test CSF or during a myelogram to inject contrast dye. The space between the dura mater and the bone is the epidural space. This space is most often accessed to deliver anesthetic numbing agents, commonly called an epidural, and to inject steroid medication (see Epidural Steroid Injections

Reflex Arc
A reflex is a rapid, involuntary response to a stimulus. A reflex arc is the pathway traveled by the nerve impulses during a reflex. Most reflexes are spinal reflexes with pathways that traverse only the spinal cord. During a spinal reflex, information may be transmitted to the brain, but it is the spinal cord, not the brain, that is responsible for the integration of sensory information and a response transmitted to motor neurons. Some reflexes are cranial reflexes with pathways through cranial nerves and the brainstem. A reflex arc involves the following components, shown in Figure 1:

The receptor is the part of the neuron (usually a dendrite) that detects a stimulus. The sensory neuron transmits the impulse to the spinal cord. The integration center involves one synapse (monosynaptic reflex arc) or two or more synapses (polysynaptic reflex arc) in the gray matter of the spinal cord. In polysynaptic reflex arcs, one or more interneurons in the gray matter constitute the integration center. A motor neuron transmits a nerve impulse from the spinal cord to a peripheral region. An effector is a muscle or gland that receives the impulse from the motor neuron. In somatic reflexes, the effector is skeletal muscle. In autonomic (visceral) reflexes, the effector is smooth or cardiac muscle, or a gland.

\Figure 1. A reflex arc.

Some examples of reflexes follow:

A stretch reflex is a monosynaptic reflex that is a response to a muscle that has been stretched (the knee-jerk reflex is an example). When receptors in muscles, called muscle spindles, detect changes in muscle length, they stimulate, through a reflex arc, the contraction of a muscle. Stretch reflexes help maintain posture by stimulating muscles to regain normal body position. A flexor (withdrawal) reflex is a polysynaptic reflex that causes a limb to be withdrawn when it encounters pain (refer to Figure 1). A monosynaptic reflex is, typically, a reflex that does not involve the brain. See Figure 2. There is no association neuron in the spinal cord; therefore, information does not go to the brain. An example of a monosynaptic reflex is the patellar reflex, sometimes called the knee-jerk reflex.

Figure 2. The patellar reflex.

A Conscious Stimulus-Response
We react to all stimuli in basically the same way as a reflex. The integration just gets more complex. Complex behaviour involves complex integration in the brain. Reacting to Changes You need to keep the conditions inside your body constant. Doing this is called homeostasis. Small changes inside your body can cause its cells to be damaged or destroyed. Yet, there are big changes going on outside your body.

You need to detect a change in the environment (a stimulus) and react to the change (a response) in a way that maintains homeostasis. When you do this without thinking, it is called a reflex. When it gets cold outside (stimulus) you shiver (response) and keep the temperature inside your body from dropping. When it gets hot outside (stimulus) you perspire (response) and keep the temperature inside your body from rising.

Other Reflexes
Stimulus The aroma of your favorite food A nasty odor A bright light shining in your eye An insect flying towards your eye Response Salivation Nausea Pupils get smaller Blinking

Does the nerve impulse reaches the brain during a reflex arc?
Usually, when cells within the body are stimulated, they send a message, called a nerve impulse, to the brain. The brain receives the message and then sends back another message in response to this initial stimulation. This takes place very quickly, but it is not automatic like the response seen with reflexes. Reflexes can be spinal reflexes or brain reflexes. The difference in the two types of reflexes is where the reflex arc is found. With spinal reflexes, it occurs in the spinal cord and for brain reflexes, within the brain. No matter where the reflex arc is located, there is no conscious control involved. An example of a spinal reflex is the knee-jerk reaction and brain reflexes including blinking, coughing and iris contraction within the eye. The key difference between a reflex action and any other action is the involvement of the brain and the lack of conscious control. By following a reflex arc, nerve impulses travel along sensory neurons from the site of stimulation to the spinal cord or brain and then back to the area of the response along motor neurons. In some reflex arcs, the sensory neurons are connected to the motor neurons by connector neurons, but either way, there is no control by the brain.

What is the importance of the reflex arc?

These are mechanisms for maintaining appropriate posture (position) and it orients (adjusts) the body against the environmental threats to the organism.

Reflex action is one of the most primitive reactions developed by organisms as a protective mechanism to protect self from threats. The term reflex action itself means that the actions are not taken consciously by the individual. The "fight or

flight" reflex is a great example. These reflexes occur in a matter of fractions of a second before our conscious brain can rationalize anything. Gag reflex is a reflex that the body uses to get rid of foreign bodies, toxins or other waste from the body in response to specific threats perceived by the body. In short reflex actions are designed to protect self from possible danger.

Peripheral Nervous System

The peripheral nervous system (PNS) is the division of the nervous system containing all the nerves that lie outside of the central nervous system (CNS). The primary role of the PNS is to connect the CNS to the organs, limbs and skin. These nerves extend from the central nervous system to the outermost areas of the body. The nerves that make up the peripheral nervous system are actually the axons or bundles of axons from neuron cells. In some cases, these nerves are very small but some nerve bundles are so large that they can be easily seen by the human eye.

Division and function of Peripheral Nervous system

The peripheral nervous system (PNS) refers to all the neurons (and their supporting cells, or glia) of the body outside the brain and spinal cord (central nervous system [CNS]). The brain is the organ that decides how a person responds to what happens in the surrounding world. While this is an extremely important function, the brain relies upon the peripheral nervous system, and its information gathering capabilities, to receive information about the world and to send appropriate responses to various body parts, such as muscles and glands. The neurons of the peripheral nervous system do not make complex decisions about the information they carry. The appropriate decisions are made instead in the brain and spinal cord. However, without the peripheral nervous system's ability to bring in sensory information and send out motor information, it would be impossible for a person

to walk, talk, ride a bike, or even watch television. Without the ability to take in information and send out responses, the brain would be useless. Peripheral neurons are of two types, sensory and motor. Sensory (afferent) neurons bring information about the world within and around the body from sense organs to the brain and spinal cord, while motor (efferent) neurons carry messages from the brain and spinal cord out to the muscles and glands. For example, if a mosquito lands on a person's arm, sensory neurons in the skin send a message to the spinal cord and then the brain, where the message is understood, and a reaction formulated. The brain's response may be to use motor neurons to cause muscle contractions resulting in a slap on the skin where the mosquito landed.

Sensory Division
The sensory division of the PNS carries all types of sensory information to the CNS, including that from the "special senses" of touch, smell, taste, hearing, and sight, as well pain, body position (proprioception), and a variety of visceral sensory information. The information from the viscera (internal organs) includes some of which the body is aware (bladder fullness and stomach aches, for example), as well as much of which the body is not aware, including blood pressure, concentration of substances in the blood, and many other bits of sensory information used to regulate the internal environment.

The central and peripheral nervous systems (left) and the autonomic nervous system (right).

Motor Division
The motor division of the PNS is subdivided into several branches. The somatic motor branch carries voluntary (willed) commands to the skeletal muscles, allowing a person to perform such action as swatting a mosquito or sticking out the tongue. The autonomic motor branch carries autonomic (automatic, or unwilled) commands to a variety of muscles and glands throughout the body, allowing the brain to control heart rate, blood pressure, breathing rate, sweat production, and hormone release, among other functions. Much like a car, which has both a gas pedal and a brake to give the driver very precise speed control, the autonomic nervous system can be subdivided into two parts, the sympathetic and the parasympathetic. The sympathetic part of the autonomic nervous system generally acts in opposition to the parasympathetic part. So while the sympathetic motor neurons speed up the heart, the parasympathetic motor neurons will slow it down, and while the sympathetic motor neurons slow down digestion, parasympathetic motor neurons speed digestion. When a person is frightened, for example, sympathetic motor neurons trigger adrenaline release, increase the heartbeat and blood pressure, close off blood vessels to the gut and open them to the skeletal muscles, dilate the pupils, and open the airways. Combined, these are known as the "fight or flight" response, since they prepare the body for rapid action. Afterward, parasympathetic neurons reverse these actions, bringing the body back to a more peaceful resting state. Anatomical Considerations Some of the somatic sensory neurons are very long, stretching from the sensory receptors all over the body all the way into the spinal cord, or even directly into the brain. Likewise, a single somatic motor neuron spans the distance from the spinal cord or brain to whichever muscle it operates, even if that is the muscle controlling the big toe. Autonomic motor neurons are not as long, and usually two neurons are needed to stretch from the spinal cord to the muscle or gland being turned on or off. Many of the connections among neurons in the peripheral nervous system are made in special structures called ganglia (singular, ganglion). Most ganglia are large collections of connecting neurons located in specific regions of the body, and are part of the autonomic nervous system. In some cases, the ganglia are located close to the spinal cord, and thus close to the target organ.

The Autonomic Nervous System

The autonomic system is the part of the peripheral nervous system responsible for regulating involuntary body functions, such as blood flow, heartbeat, digestion and breathing. This system is further divided into two branches: the sympathetic system regulates the flight-or-fight responses, while the parasympathetic system helps maintain normal body functions and conserves physical resources.

The autonomic nervous system consists of sensory neurons and motor neurons that run between the central nervous system (especially the hypothalamus and medulla oblongata) and various internal organs such as the:

heart lungs viscera

glands (both exocrine and endocrine)

It is responsible for monitoring conditions in the internal environment and bringing about appropriate changes in them. The contraction of both smooth muscle and cardiac muscle is controlled by motor neurons of the autonomic system.

The Parasympathetic Division

It controls various functions which include inhibiting heart rate, constricting pupils, and contracting the bladder.

The Sympathetic division

Often have an opposite effect when they are located within the same organs as parasympathetic nerves. Nerves of the sympathetic division speed up heart rate, dilate pupils, and relax the bladder. The sympathetic system is also involved in the flight or fight response. This is a response to potential danger that results in accelerated heart rate and an increase in metabolic rate.

Enteric Nervous System

The enteric nervous system (ENS) is that part of the peripheral nervous system of vertebrates that plays a fundamental role in control of the gastrointestinal system. It is responsible for the behaviour of the bowel, as well as regulating intestinal blood supply and other digestive functions. The enteric nervous system is very complex and has many more neurons than the spinal cord. This system is capable of autonomous functions, acting independent of conscious control, such as the coordination of reflexes. It also receives considerable innervations from the autonomic nervous system. Thus, it generally is considered a part of the autonomic nervous system, which is one of the two main divisions of the peripheral nervous system. Similarities between the enteric nervous system and the central nervous system led to the ENS being referred to as the "second brain." It works harmoniously with the various organs of the digestive system, and in cooperation with the rest of the nervous system, to allow proper digestive function. However, there are a number of disorders that can affect the enteric nervous system and some evidence for age-associated changes in innervations contributing to increasing disorders in the elderly. The study of the enteric nervous system is known as neuro gastroenterology.

The enteric nervous system is immensely complex and until recent years has been largely neglected. It has as many as one billion neurons, which is one hundredth of the number of neurons in the brain, and considerably more than the number of neurons in the spinal cord (Hopley and van Schalkwyk 2006). The enteric nervous system is embedded in the lining of the gastrointestinal system, including innervating areas around the intestines, pancreas, and gall bladder. It commonly is considered as part of the autonomic nervous system, which is that part of the peripheral nervous system that largely acts independent of conscious control (involuntarily). The other subdivisions of the autonomic nervous system are the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system. The peripheral nervous system is that part of the vertebrate nervous system outside of the brain and spinal cord. The complex behaviours of the bowel are regulated by the enteric nervous system, including propulsive peristaltic movement and various movements that result in mixing. Intestinal blood supply and mucosal epithelial water and electrolyte transport are also regulated by the enteric nervous system. The enteric nervous system may also be involved in a complex interplay with the immune system (Hopley and van Schalkwyk 2006)

Role Of The Enteric Nervous System

Our nervous system is an extremely complex organ system in our body. It consists of our brain, spinal cord, and nerves running throughout the body.

The enteric nervous system controls and regulates all the functions of the digestive system This allows communication between different parts of the body. Our nervous system is broken down into different subdivisions; and one of the important ones is the enteric nervous system. Our enteric nervous system mainly controls digestion in our body. It is important for this subdivision of the nervous system to work properly in order for proper digestion to take place. The enteric nervous system, also known as ENS, is a subdivision of the autonomic nervous system. This part of the nervous system is involuntary, which means it controls things without us having to think twice about it.
The principal components of the enteric nervous system are two networks or plexuses of neurons, both of which are embedded in the wall of the digestive tract and extend from esophagus to anus:

The myenteric plexus is located between the longitudinal and circular layers of muscle in the tunica muscularis and, appropriately, exerts control primarily overdigestive tract motility. The submucous plexus, as its name implies, is buried in the submucosa. Its principal role is in sensing the environment within the lumen, regulating gastrointestinal blood flow and controlling epithelial cell function. In regions where these functions are minimal, such as the esophagus, the submucous plexus is sparse and may actually be missing in sections.

The image below shows part of the myenteric plexus in a section of cat duodenum. Pass your mouse cursor over the image to outline several enteric neurons.

In addition to the two major enteric nerve plexuses, there are minor plexuses beneath the serosa, within the circular smooth muscle and in the mucosa. Within enteric plexuses are three types of neurons, most of which are multipolar:

Sensory neurons receive information from sensory receptors in the mucosa and muscle. At least five different sensory receptors have been identified in the mucosa, which respond to mechanical, thermal, osmotic and chemical stimuli. Chemoreceptors sensitive to acid, glucose and amino acids have been demonstrated which, in essence, allows "tasting" of lumenal contents. Sensory receptors in muscle respond to stretch and tension. Collectively, enteric sensory neurons compile a comprehensive battery of information on gut contents and the state of the gastrointestinal wall. Motor neurons within the enteric plexuses control gastrointestinal motility and secretion, and possibly absorption. In performing these functions, motor neurons act directly on a large number of effector cells, including smooth muscle, secretory cells (chief, parietal, mucous, enterocytes, pancreatic exocrine cells) and gastrointestinal endocrine cells. Interneurons are largely responsible for integrating information from sensory neurons and providing it to ("programming") enteric motor neurons.

Our enteric nervous system is important for our reflexes. The ENS is made up of millions and millions of neurons. Although this is nowhere near close to the amount of neurons in the brain, it is still a substantial amount.

The nerves made up from the neurons are found in the lining our digestive tract. The neurons in the enteric nervous system are responsible for digestion. The enteric nervous system has the capability to function on its own, with no help from our brain or spinal cord. This is extremely interesting, because the rest of our nervous system is controlled by our brain. Different cells in the enteric nervous system do different things. For example, sensory neurons in the enteric nervous system are involved with the chemical conditions of the digestive system as well as the mechanical functions taking place (digestion). Our motor neurons of our enteric nervous system control what we call peristalsis, which is the movement of the food through the digestive tract. Our enteric nervous system also contains other neurons that are in charge of producing and releasing enzymes in the stomach, small intestine, and large intestine. Interneurons are also found in the enteric nervous system, and they are needed for programming other types of neurons in the enteric nervous system. Many of our reflexes in the stomach and intestines are also controlled by neurons of the enteric nervous system. The enteric nervous system is an extremely advanced part of our nervous system. Although it can function on its own, most of the time it does not. Our vagus nerve is the main nerve from the brain that helps to aid in the enteric nervous system. If the communication between the vagus nerve and the brain disrupted, our enteric nervous system still has the capability to function on its own. Our enteric nervous system is absolutely necessary for digestion in our body. It helps for our digestive tract to move food through, which is called peristalsis. It is also responsible for many different things that go on within our digestive system, such as the release of enzymes or the mechanical churning of our intestines and the stomach. The enteric nervous system is a large and important part of our overall nervous system, and is necessary for digestion.

A neuron is a nerve cell that is the basic building block of the nervous system. Neurons are similar to other cells in the human body in a number of ways, but there is one key difference between neurons and other cells. Neurons are specialized to transmit information throughout the body. These highly specialized nerve cells are responsible for communicating information in both chemical and electrical forms. There are also several different types of neurons responsible for different tasks in the human body. Sensory neurons carry information from the sensory receptor cells throughout the body to the brain. Motor neurons transmit information from the brain to the muscles of the body. Inter neurons are responsible for communicating information between different neurons in the body. Neurons vs. Other Cells Similarities with other cells: Neurons and other body cells both contain a nucleus that holds genetic information. Neurons and other body cells are surrounded by a membrane that protects the cell. The cell bodies of both cell types contain organelles that support the life of the cell, including mitochondria, Golgi bodies, and cytoplasm. Differences that make neurons unique: Unlike other body cells, neurons stop reproducing shortly after birth. Because of this, some parts of the brain have more neurons at birth than later in life because neurons die but are not replaced. While neurons do not reproduce, research has shown that new connections between neurons form throughout life. Neurons have a membrane that is designed to sends information to other cells. The axon and dendrites are specialized structures designed to transmit and receive information. The connections between cells are known as synapses. Neurons release chemicals known as neurotransmitters into these synapses to communicate with other neurons.

Parts and function of neurons

There are three basic parts of a neuron: the dendrites, the cell body and the axon. However, all neurons vary somewhat in size, shape, and characteristics depending on the function and role of the neuron. Some neurons have few dendrite branches, while others are highly branched in order to receive a great deal of information. Some neurons have short axons, while others can be quite long. The longest axon in the human body extends from the bottom of the spine to the big toe and averages a length of approximately three feet!


Dendrites are treelike extensions at the beginning of a neuron that help increase the surface area of the cell body and are covered with synapses. These tiny protrusions receive information from other neurons and transmit electrical stimulation to the soma. Dendrite Characteristics

Most neurons have many dendrites Short and highly branched Transmits information to the cell body

Cell body or Soma

The soma is where the signals from the dendrites are joined and passed on. The soma and the nucleus do not play an active role in the transmission of the neural signal. Instead, these two structures serve to maintain the cell and keep the neuron functional. The support structures of the cell include mitochondria, which provide energy for the cell, and the Golgi apparatus, which packages products, created by the cell and secretes them outside the cell wall.

Axon Hillock

The axon hillock is located at the end of the soma and controls the firing of the neuron. If the total strength of the signal exceeds the threshold limit of the axon hillock, the structure will fire a signal (known as an action potential) down the axon.


The axon is the elongated fiber that extends from the cell body to the terminal endings and transmits the neural signal. The larger the axon, the faster it transmits information. Some axons are covered with a fatty substance called myelin that acts as an insulator. These militated axons transmit information much faster than other neurons. Axon Characteristics

Most neurons have only one axon Transmit information away from the cell body May or may not have a myelin covering

Types of Neurons Sensory Neuron

Sensory neurons are responsible for bringing information from sensory receptors (like the nerves in your hand) to the central nervous system (spinal cord and brain). In other words, these neurons carry information about the senses, so they bring information from the eyes, ears, etc., as well as from within the body like the stomach.

Pseudo-unipolar - neurons with a short extension that quickly divides into two branches, one of which functions as a dendrite, the other as an axon.

The neurons that conduct impulses from the receptors or sense organs to the central nervous system are called the sensory neurons.

Motor Neurons
Motor neurons that conduct motor commands from the cortex to the spinal cord or from the spinal cord to the muscles

Multipolar neurons that have short dendrites emanating from the cell body and one long axon A motor neuron is a type of cell in the nervous system that directly or indirectly controls the contraction or relaxation of muscles, which in most cases leads to movement. Motor neurons are also called motor neurons or efferent neurons. While efferent neurons carry information from the central nervous system to muscles and other systems, afferent neurons, or sensory neurons, carry information from sensory organs and tissues such as eyes and skin back to the central nervous system.

While it is a cell, a motor neuron has a unique design that best allows it to serve its purpose. A neuron is composed of three parts: the dendrites; the cell body, or soma; and the axon. The dendrites branch out from the cell body and receive the electrochemical signals from other units of the nervous system. The cell body, or soma, contains the necessary cellular components and genetic information needed to keep the cell functional. The axon, or nerve fiber, is considered the most important part of the neuron; the long, thin fiber conducts electrical impulses and sends signals where they are needed.

The Synapse
Neurons have specialized projections called dendrites and axons. Dendrites bring information to the cell body and axons take information away from the cell body. Information from one neuron flows to another neuron across a synapse. The synapse contains a small gap separating neurons. The synapse consists of: 1. a presynaptic ending that contains neurotransmitters, mitochondria and other cell organelles 2. a postsynaptic ending that contains receptor sites for neurotransmitters 3. a synaptic cleft or space between the presynaptic and postsynaptic endings.

Electrical Trigger for Neurotransmission

For communication between neurons to occur, an electrical impulse must travel down an axon to the synaptic terminal.

Neurotransmitter Mobilization and Release

At the synaptic terminal (the presynaptic ending), an electrical impulse will trigger the migration of vesicles (the red dots in the figure to the left) containing neurotransmitters toward the presynaptic membrane. The vesicle membrane will fuse with the presynaptic membrane releasing the neurotransmitters into the synaptic cleft. Until recently, it was thought that a neuron produced and released only one type of neurotransmitter. This was called "Dale's Law." However, there is now evidence that neurons can contain and release more than one kind of neurotransmitter.

Diffusion of Neurotransmitters Across the Synaptic Cleft

The neurotransmitter molecules then diffuse across the synaptic cleft where they can bind with receptor sites on the postsynaptic ending to influence the electrical response in the postsynaptic neuron. In the figure on the right, the postsynaptic ending is a dendrite(axodendritic synapse), but synapses can occur on axons (axoaxonic synapse) and cell bodies (axosomatic synapse). When a neurotransmitter binds to a receptor on the postsynaptic side of the synapse, it changes the postsynaptic cell's excitability: it makes the postsynaptic cell either more or less likely to fire an action potential. If the number of excitatory postsynaptic events is large enough, they will add to cause an action potential in the postsynaptic cell and a continuation of the "message." Many psychoactive drugs andneurotoxins can change the properties of neurotransmitter release, neurotransmitter reuptake and the availability of receptor binding sites

Types of Synapses

A neurotransmitter is a chemical messenger that carries, boosts and modulates signals between neurons and other cells in the body. In most cases, a neurotransmitter is released from the axon terminal after an action potential has reached the synapse. The neurotransmitter then crosses the synaptic gap to reach the receptor site of the other cell or neuron. Then, in a process known as reuptake, the neurotransmitter attaches to the receptor site and is reabsorbed by the neuron. Neurotransmitters play a major role in everyday life and functioning. Scientists do not yet know exactly how many neurotransmitters exist, but more than 100 chemical messengers have been identified. When neurotransmitters are affected by disease or drugs, there can be a number of different adverse effects on the body. Diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's are associated with deficits in certain neurotransmitters.


Location w/in the body

A neurotransmitter used by neurons in the PNS and CNS in the control of functions ranging from muscle contraction and heart rate to digestion and memory.

Over secretion effect

Under secretion effect


Located between neuron and muscles

Feelings of paranoia and you can feel as though you are being taken advantage of.

Linked to Alzheimer's disease when not enough


Medulla and the pons, in particular the locus coeruleus

A neurotransmitter involved in arousal, as well as in learning and mood regulation.

Mania: level alertness way too high.Fear and anxiety.



Cerebral cortex (hippocampus, especially particularly the CA1 region), amygdala, & basal ganglia

An excitatory neurotransmitter that helps strengthens synaptic connections between neurons.

Stimulates brain which leads to migraines and seizures, death of brain cells.

Psychosis, coma and death.


A neurotransmitter used in the parts of the brain involved in Areas near the brainstem regulating movement and experiencing pleasure. Alertness, learning, emotions.

Hallucinogens, hearing voices, delusion, think outside of reality. ; dopamine (causes hallucinogens which heightens alertness level)

Parkinsons Disease: cant control voluntary movement


Group of nuclei at the center of the reticular formation in the midbrain, pons and medulla brain regions. These pathways are widespread throughout the brainstem, the cerebral cortex, as well as the spinal cord.

A neurotransmitter used by cells in parts of the brain involved in the regulation of sleep, mood and eating.

Maniac episode: an extreme high, so happy, day without eating and extremely disruptive.

Depression: sad, x amount of days not sleeping or sleeping too much.

The Whole Brain Atlas by Keith A. Johnson, M.D and J. Alex Becker, Ph.D Bloom, F. "Brain, Mind, and Behavior". New York, NY: W.H. Freeman and Co., 1985. Eccles, J. "The Understanding of the Brain". New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Book Co., 1973. Heinz, S., Baron, G., Frahm, H. "Comparative Size of Brains and Brain Components". Neurosciences: Comparative Primate Biology, Vol. 4, New York, NY: Alan R. Liss, Inc., 1988 Peters, A., Palay, S., Webster, H. "The Fine Structure of the Nervous System". 3rd Edition. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1991. Roberts, M., Hanaway, J. "Atlas of the Human Brain in Section". Philadelphia, PA: Lea and Febiger, 1970. Rosenzweig, M. "Biological Psychology". Sunderland, MA: Sinauer Associates, Inc., 1996. Stephen J. DeArmond, Madeline M. Fusco and Maynard M. Dewey, Structure of the Human Brain. A Photographic Atlas, Oxford University Press, New York, 1976, 186 pages. Complex and Hidden Brain in Gut Makes Stomachaches and Butterflies, Sandra Blakeslee, The New York Times 1/23/96, p. C1.

Clinton Community College: Nervous System Organizations by Michael J. Gregory, Ph.D. 0lectures/nervous%20system/nervous1.htm Article on Livestrong about Medulla Brain Functions by Lori Newell Pons Function by Dr. Sumaiya Khan: Published 6/7/2010 Characteristics of the Left and Right Hemisphere by Jack Rovierem: Published November 22, 2007 What is the Hypothalamus by Dr. Ananya Mandal, MD The Synapse - Copyright 1996-2012, Eric H. Chudler All Rights Reserved Role Of the Spinal Cord Reflex Arc by Jerry Halpern

Organization of the Nervous System

Submitted by: Joyce Marcel R. Nievers BSBA-MM 3-6N Submitted to: Prof. Maria Corazon Cabigao Constantino