The Nervous System (The Human Body, How It Works)

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The CNS acts as the control center of the body by providing its processing, memory, and regulation systems. The CNS is also responsible for the higher functions of the nervous system such as language, creativity, expression, emotions, and personality. The brain is the seat of consciousness and determines who we are as individuals.

The peripheral nervous system PNS includes all of the parts of the nervous system outside of the brain and spinal cord. These parts include all of the cranial and spinal nerves, ganglia, and sensory receptors. The SNS is the only consciously controlled part of the PNS and is responsible for stimulating skeletal muscles in the body. The ANS controls subconscious effectors such as visceral muscle tissue, cardiac muscle tissue, and glandular tissue. There are 2 divisions of the autonomic nervous system in the body: the sympathetic and parasympathetic divisions.

The enteric nervous system ENS is the division of the ANS that is responsible for regulating digestion and the function of the digestive organs. The ENS receives signals from the central nervous system through both the sympathetic and parasympathetic divisions of the autonomic nervous system to help regulate its functions. Neurons function through the generation and propagation of electrochemical signals known as action potentials APs. An AP is created by the movement of sodium and potassium ions through the membrane of neurons.

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See Water and Electrolytes. A synapse is the junction between a neuron and another cell. Synapses may form between 2 neurons or between a neuron and an effector cell. There are two types of synapses found in the body: chemical synapses and electrical synapses.


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The axons of many neurons are covered by a coating of insulation known as myelin to increase the speed of nerve conduction throughout the body. In both cases, the glial cells wrap their plasma membrane around the axon many times to form a thick covering of lipids. The development of these myelin sheaths is known as myelination. Myelination speeds up the movement of APs in the axon by reducing the number of APs that must form for a signal to reach the end of an axon.

The myelination process begins speeding up nerve conduction in fetal development and continues into early adulthood. Myelinated axons appear white due to the presence of lipids and form the white matter of the inner brain and outer spinal cord. White matter is specialized for carrying information quickly through the brain and spinal cord. The gray matter of the brain and spinal cord are the unmyelinated integration centers where information is processed. Reflexes are fast, involuntary responses to stimuli. Reflexes are integrated in the gray matter of the spinal cord or in the brain stem.

That is a homeostatic mechanism. But when you are nervous, you might start sweating also. That is not homeostatic, it is the physiological response to an emotional state. There is another division of the nervous system that describes functional responses. The enteric nervous system ENS is responsible for controlling the smooth muscle and glandular tissue in your digestive system. It is sometimes valid, however, to consider the enteric system to be a part of the autonomic system because the neural structures that make up the enteric system are a component of the autonomic output that regulates digestion.

There are some differences between the two, but for our purposes here there will be a good bit of overlap. See Figure 5 for examples of where these divisions of the nervous system can be found. Visit this site to read about a woman that notices that her daughter is having trouble walking up the stairs.

This leads to the discovery of a hereditary condition that affects the brain and spinal cord. The electromyography and MRI tests indicated deficiencies in the spinal cord and cerebellum, both of which are responsible for controlling coordinated movements. To what functional division of the nervous system would these structures belong? Have you ever heard the claim that humans only use 10 percent of their brains? Maybe you have seen an advertisement on a website saying that there is a secret to unlocking the full potential of your mind—as if there were 90 percent of your brain sitting idle, just waiting for you to use it.

An easy way to see how much of the brain a person uses is to take measurements of brain activity while performing a task. An example of this kind of measurement is functional magnetic resonance imaging fMRI , which generates a map of the most active areas and can be generated and presented in three dimensions Figure 6. This procedure is different from the standard MRI technique because it is measuring changes in the tissue in time with an experimental condition or event. The underlying assumption is that active nervous tissue will have greater blood flow.

By having the subject perform a visual task, activity all over the brain can be measured. Consider this possible experiment: the subject is told to look at a screen with a black dot in the middle a fixation point. A photograph of a face is projected on the screen away from the center. The subject has to look at the photograph and decipher what it is. The subject has been instructed to push a button if the photograph is of someone they recognize. The photograph might be of a celebrity, so the subject would press the button, or it might be of a random person unknown to the subject, so the subject would not press the button.

In this task, visual sensory areas would be active, integrating areas would be active, motor areas responsible for moving the eyes would be active, and motor areas for pressing the button with a finger would be active. Those areas are distributed all around the brain and the fMRI images would show activity in more than just 10 percent of the brain some evidence suggests that about 80 percent of the brain is using energy—based on blood flow to the tissue—during well-defined tasks similar to the one suggested above.

This task does not even include all of the functions the brain performs. There is no language response, the body is mostly lying still in the MRI machine, and it does not consider the autonomic functions that would be ongoing in the background. The nervous system can be separated into divisions on the basis of anatomy and physiology.

The anatomical divisions are the central and peripheral nervous systems. The CNS is the brain and spinal cord. The PNS is everything else. Functionally, the nervous system can be divided into those regions that are responsible for sensation, those that are responsible for integration, and those that are responsible for generating responses. All of these functional areas are found in both the central and peripheral anatomy.

Considering the anatomical regions of the nervous system, there are specific names for the structures within each division. Whereas nuclei and ganglia are specifically in the central or peripheral divisions, axons can cross the boundary between the two.

Nervous System

A single axon can be part of a nerve and a tract. The name for that specific structure depends on its location. Nervous tissue can also be described as gray matter and white matter on the basis of its appearance in unstained tissue. These descriptions are more often used in the CNS. Gray matter is where nuclei are found and white matter is where tracts are found. In the PNS, ganglia are basically gray matter and nerves are white matter.

The nervous system can also be divided on the basis of how it controls the body. The somatic nervous system SNS is responsible for functions that result in moving skeletal muscles. Any sensory or integrative functions that result in the movement of skeletal muscle would be considered somatic. The autonomic nervous system ANS is responsible for functions that affect cardiac or smooth muscle tissue, or that cause glands to produce their secretions. Autonomic functions are distributed between central and peripheral regions of the nervous system.

The sensations that lead to autonomic functions can be the same sensations that are part of initiating somatic responses. Somatic and autonomic integrative functions may overlap as well.


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A special division of the nervous system is the enteric nervous system, which is responsible for controlling the digestive organs. Parts of the autonomic nervous system overlap with the enteric nervous system. The enteric nervous system is exclusively found in the periphery because it is the nervous tissue in the organs of the digestive system. Visit the Nobel Prize website to play an interactive game that demonstrates the use of this technology and compares it with other types of imaging technologies.

Also, the results from an MRI session are compared with images obtained from x-ray or computed tomography. MRI uses the relative amount of water in tissue to distinguish different areas, so gray and white matter in the nervous system can be seen clearly in these images. They are part of the somatic nervous system, which is responsible for voluntary movements such as walking or climbing the stairs. There are three types of response systems in the immune system: the anatomic response, the inflammatory response, and the immune response.

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The lymphatic system is also a defense system for the body. It filters out organisms that cause disease, produces white blood cells, and generates disease-fighting antibodies.

Nervous system - Wikipedia

It also distributes fluids and nutrients in the body and drains excess fluids and protein so that tissues do not swell. The lymphatic system is made up of a network of vessels that help circulate body fluids. These vessels carry excess fluid away from the spaces between tissues and organs and return it to the bloodstream. The muscular system is made up of tissues that work with the skeletal system to control movement of the body. Some muscles—like the ones in your arms and legs—are voluntary, meaning that you decide when to move them. Other muscles, like the ones in your stomach, heart, intestines and other organs, are involuntary.

This means that they are controlled automatically by the nervous system and hormones—you often don't even realize they're at work. The body is made up of three types of muscle tissue: skeletal, smooth and cardiac. Each of these has the ability to contract and expand, which allows the body to move and function. The nervous system is made up of the brain, the spinal cord, and nerves. One of the most important systems in your body, the nervous system is your body's control system. It sends, receives, and processes nerve impulses throughout the body. These nerve impulses tell your muscles and organs what to do and how to respond to the environment.

There are three parts of your nervous system that work together: the central nervous system, the peripheral nervous system, and the autonomic nervous system.

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The reproductive system allows humans to produce children. Sperm from the male fertilizes the female's egg, or ovum, in the fallopian tube. The fertilized egg travels from the fallopian tube to the uterus, where the fetus develops over a period of nine months. The respiratory system brings air into the body and removes carbon dioxide. It includes the nose, trachea, and lungs. When you breathe in, air enters your nose or mouth and goes down a long tube called the trachea.


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  4. The trachea branches into two bronchial tubes, or primary bronchi, which go to the lungs. The primary bronchi branch off into even smaller bronchial tubes, or bronchioles. The bronchioles end in the alveoli, or air sacs. Oxygen follows this path and passes through the walls of the air sacs and blood vessels and enters the blood stream. At the same time, carbon dioxide passes into the lungs and is exhaled. The skeletal system is made up of bones, ligaments and tendons.