Sunday, 13 March 2011

Nervous system

The nervous system is an organ system containing a network of specialized cells called neurons that coordinate the actions of an animal and transmit signals between different parts of its body. In most animals the nervous system consists of two parts, central and peripheral. The central nervous system of vertebrates (such as humans) contains the brain, spinal cord, and retina. The peripheral nervous system consists of sensory neurons, clusters of neurons called ganglia, and nerves connecting them to each other and to the central nervous system. These regions are all interconnected by means of complex neural pathways. The enteric nervous system, a subsystem of the peripheral nervous system, has the capacity, even when severed from the rest of the nervous system through its primary connection by the vagus nerve, to function independently in controlling the gastrointestinal system.

Neurons send signals to other cells as electrochemical waves travelling along thin fibers called axons, which cause chemicals called neurotransmitters to be released at junctions called synapses. A cell that receives a synaptic signal may be excited, inhibited, or otherwise modulated. Sensory neurons are activated by physical stimuli impinging on them, and send signals that inform the central nervous system of the state of the body and the external environment. Motor neurons, situated either in the central nervous system or in peripheral ganglia, connect the nervous system to muscles or other effector organs. Central neurons, which in vertebrates greatly outnumber the other types, make all of their input and output connections with other neurons. The interactions of all these types of neurons form neural circuits that generate an organism's perception of the world and determine its behavior. Along with neurons, the nervous system contains other specialized cells called glial cells (or simply glia), which provide structural and metabolic support.

Nervous systems are found in most multicellular animals, but vary greatly in complexity.[1] Sponges have no nervous system, although they have homologs of many genes that play crucial roles in nervous system function, and are capable of several whole-body responses, including a primitive form of locomotion. Placozoans and mesozoans—other simple animals that are not classified as part of the subkingdom Eumetazoa—also have no nervous system. In Radiata (radially symmetric animals such as jellyfish) the nervous system consists of a simple nerve net. Bilateria, which include the great majority of vertebrates and invertebrates, all have a nervous system containing a brain, one central cord (or two running in parallel), and peripheral nerves. The size of the bilaterian nervous system ranges from a few hundred cells in the simplest worms, to on the order of 100 billion cells in humans. Neuroscience is the study of the nervous system.

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