The Nervous System|
Made up of the brain, the spinal cord, and an enormous network of nerves that thread throughout the body, the nervous system is the control center for the entire body. Multicellular animals must monitor and maintain a constant internal environment as well as monitor and respond to an external environment. In many animals, these two functions are coordinated by two integrated and coordinated organ systems: the nervous system and the endocrine system. Two basic functions are performed by nervous systems:
Sensory Input ~ Receptors are parts of the nervous system that sense changes in the internal or external environments. Sensory input can be in many forms, including pressure, taste, sound, light, blood pH, or hormone levels, that are converted to a signal and sent to the brain or spinal cord.
Integration and Output ~ In the sensory centers of the brain or in the spinal cord, the barrage of input is integrated and a response is generated. The response, a motor output, is a signal transmitted to organs than can convert the signal into some form of action, such as movement, changes in heart rate, release of hormones, etc.
The nervous system monitors and controls almost every organ system through a series of positive and negative feedback loops. The Central Nervous System (CNS) includes the brain and spinal cord. The Peripheral Nervous System (PNS) connects the CNS to other parts of the body, and is composed of nerves (bundles of neurons).
Peripheral Nervous System (PNS)
Peripheral Nervous System (PNS)
Somatic Nervous System (SNS) ~ The SNS includes all nerves controlling the muscular system and external sensory receptors. External sense organs (including skin) are receptors. Muscle fibers and gland cells are effectors. The reflex arc is an automatic, involuntary reaction to a stimulus. The reaction to the stimulus is involuntary, with the CNS being informed but not consciously controlling the response. Examples of reflex arcs include balance, the blinking reflex, and the stretch reflex.
Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) ~ The Autonomic Nervous System is that part of PNS consisting of motor neurons that control internal organs. It has two subsystems. The autonomic system controls muscles in the heart, the smooth muscle in internal organs such as the intestine, bladder, and uterus. The Sympathetic Nervous System is involved in the fight or flight response. The Parasympathetic Nervous System is involved in relaxation. Each of these subsystems operates in the reverse of the other (antagonism). Both systems innervate the same organs and act in opposition to maintain homeostasis. Motor neurons in this system do not reach their targets directly (as do those in the somatic system) but rather connect to a secondary motor neuron which in turn innervates the target organ.
Central Nervous System (CNS)
Medulla Oblongata ~ Closest to the spinal cord, and is involved with the regulation of heartbeat, breathing, vasoconstriction (blood pressure), and reflex centers for vomiting, coughing, sneezing, swallowing, and hiccuping. The hypothalamus regulates homeostasis. It has regulatory areas for thirst, hunger, body temperature, water balance, and blood pressure, and links the Nervous System to the Endocrine System. The midbrain and pons are also part of the unconscious brain. The thalamus serves as a central relay point for incoming nervous messages.
Cerebellum ~ The second largest part of the brain, after the cerebrum. It functions for muscle coordination and maintains normal muscle tone and posture. The cerebellum coordinates balance.
Brain ~ The conscious brain includes the cerebral hemispheres, which are are separated by the corpus callosum. The cerebrum coordinates sensory data and motor functions. The cerebrum governs intelligence and reasoning, learning and memory.
Parts of the Brain
Parts of the Brain
Brain Stem ~ The brain stem is the smallest and from an evolutionary viewpoint, the oldest and most primitive part of the brain. The brain stem is continuous with the spinal cord, and is composed of the parts of the hindbrain and midbrain. The medulla oblongata and pons control heart rate, constriction of blood vessels, digestion and respiration.Midbrain ~ The midbrain consists of connections between the hindbrain and forebrain. Mammals use this part of the brain only for eye reflexes.
Cerebellum ~ The cerebellum is the third part of the hindbrain, but it is not considered part of the brain stem. Functions of the cerebellum include fine motor coordination and body movement, posture, and balance. This region of the brain is enlarged in birds and controls muscle action needed for flight.
Forebrain ~ The forebrain consists of the diencephalon and cerebrum. The thalamus and hypothalamus are the parts of the diencephalon. The thalamus acts as a switching center for nerve messages. The hypothalamus is a major homeostatic center having both nervous and endocrine functions.
Cerebrum ~ The largest part of the human brain, divided into left and right hemispheres connected to each other by the corpus callosum. The hemispheres are covered by a thin layer of gray matter known as the cerebral cortex, the most recently evolved region of the vertebrate brain. The cortex in each hemisphere of the cerebrum is between 1 and 4 mm thick. Folds divide the cortex into four lobes: occipital, temporal, parietal, and frontal. No region of the brain functions alone, although major functions of various parts of the lobes have been determined.
The Spinal Cord
How the Nervous System Works
The plasma membrane of neurons (nerve cells), like all other cells, has an unequal distribution of ions and electrical charges between the two sides of the membrane. The outside of the membrane has a positive charge, inside has a negative charge. When a neuron is stimulated -- by heat, cold, touch, sound vibrations or some other message -- it begins to actually generate a tiny electrical pulse. This electricity and chemical change travels the full length of the neuron. But when it gets to the end of finger-like points at the end of the neuron, it needs help getting across the gap between the cells (synapses) to the next extended finger. That's where chemicals come in. The electrical pulse in the cells triggers the release of chemicals that carry the pulse to the next cell. And so on and so on and so on.
The Stimuli and The Senses
Orientation and Gravity ~ Orientation and gravity are detected at the semicircular canals. Hair cells along three planes respond to shifts of liquid within the cochlea, providing a three-dimensional sense of equilibrium. Calcium carbonate crystals can shift in response to gravity, providing sensory information about gravity and acceleration.
Photoreceptors Detect Vision and Light Sensitivity ~ The human eye can detect light in the 400-700 nanometer (nm) range, a small portion of the electromagnetic spectrum, the visible light spectrum. Light with wavelengths shorter than 400 nm is termed ultraviolet (UV) light. Light with wavelengths longer than 700 nm is termed infrared (IR) light. In the eye, two types of photoreceptor cells are clustered on the retina, or back portion of the eye. These receptors, rods and cones, apparently evolved from hair cells. Rods detect differences in light intensity; cones detect color. Rods are more common in a circular zone near the edge of the eye. Cones occur in the center (or fovea centralis) of the retina. Light reaching a photoreceptor causes the breakdown of the chemical rhodopsin, which in turn causes a membrane potential that is transmitted to an action potential. The action potential transfers to synapsed neurons that connect to the optic nerve. The optic nerve connects to the occipital lobe of the brain. Humans have three types of cones, each sensitive to a different color of light: red, blue and green. Opsins are chemicals that bind to cone cells and make those cells sensitive to light of a particular wavelength (or color). Humans have three different form of opsins coded for by three genes on the X chromosome. Defects in one or more of these opsin genes can cause color blindness, usually in males.