Brain and Nervous System

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Your brain is the most complex and least understood organ in your body. It interprets information gathered through the senses, initiates all body movement, stores information for later use, and controls thought and behavior. The cerebellum helps maintain posture and balance and the coordination of movements. The brain stem controls vital functions such as breathing. The uppermost part of the brain stem, known as the midbrain, controls some reflex actions and is involved in voluntary eye movements.

Your forebrain—the cerebrum and the structures inside it—manages abstract reasoning, learning, communication, sensation, emotion, and all other higher functions. The cerebrum is coated with a thin layer of gray tissue, called the cerebral cortex, where information processing occurs. Voluntary responses, such as movement and speech, are initiated inside the cerebrum, influenced by structures that control emotional state and modify perceptions. The hypothalamus is an important center of emotion and controls body temperature and sleep. The thalamus serves as a clearinghouse for information moving between the cerebrum and the brain stem and spinal cord. The hippocampus indexes memories. The basal ganglia (clusters of nerve cells adjacent to the thalamus) integrate movements.

Although your nervous system has many types of cells, the neuron serves as the main functional unit and is often referred to by the terms nerve cell or brain cell. Neurons have a central cell body, threadlike extensions called dendrites that spread out like short branches of a tree to receive messages from other nerve cells, and axons, which transmit messages between nerve cells. Other cells wrap around the axon, providing insulation and helping signals travel faster. At the end of each axon is a synapse, where signals pass from one nerve cell to another.

Chemicals called neurotransmitters enable brain cells to communicate with each other. Some neurotransmitters, such as acetylcholine or norepinephrine, make neurons react quickly. A neurotransmitter called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) makes cells less excitable. Other neurotransmitters are serotonin, dopamine, and glutamate. Some medications used to treat neurological disorders adjust the level of specific neurotransmitters to restore normal function.

Your spinal cord, a complex bundle of nerves, carries messages between your brain and your body. Your brain and spinal cord together make up the central nervous system. Nerves that branch off from your spinal cord form the peripheral nervous system. Eight sets of nerves branch off from the cervical spine (neck), 12 sets from the thoracic spine (chest), five sets from the lumbar spine (lower back), and six sets from the sacrum (base of the backbone and tailbone). These nerves transmit instructions to all parts of the body and carry sensory information to the brain.

Brain and Nervous System

Brachial plexus (intersection of nerves that serve the arms and hands)

Thoracic nerves (serve chest, back, and part of abdomen)

Lumbar nerves (serve -lower back, upper abdomen, and parts of legs)

Brain (control center)

Cervical nerves

_(serve neck, back of head, diaphragm, and arms)

Spinal cord (links brain to body)

Sacral nerves (serve legs, anus, and genital area)

Brachial plexus (intersection of nerves that serve the arms and hands)

Brain (control center)

Cervical nerves

_(serve neck, back of head, diaphragm, and arms)

Spinal cord (links brain to body)

Thoracic nerves (serve chest, back, and part of abdomen)

Lumbar nerves (serve -lower back, upper abdomen, and parts of legs)

Sacral nerves (serve legs, anus, and genital area)

Peripheral nerves (connect spinal cord with all parts of the body)

Sciatic nerve (serves hips, legs and feet)

Sciatic nerve (serves hips, legs and feet)

Peripheral nerves (connect spinal cord with all parts of the body)

The Nervous System

The central nervous system is made up of the brain and spinal cord.The nerves that emanate from the spinal cord to the rest of the body make up the peripheral nervous system.

Common

Health

Concerns

With spinal injuries, the exact location of nerve damage determines the function lost. For example, nerves in the arms or legs may be injured by compression. This occurs in carpal tunnel syndrome (see page 311), which affects peripheral nerves that pass through the wrist. Some disorders such as diabetes can affect many nerves at the same time, resulting in a condition called polyneuropathy.

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Brain Blaster

Brain Blaster

Have you ever been envious of people who seem to have no end of clever ideas, who are able to think quickly in any situation, or who seem to have flawless memories? Could it be that they're just born smarter or quicker than the rest of us? Or are there some secrets that they might know that we don't?

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