The Role of the Nervous System – Neurology Example

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"The Role of the Nervous System" is a brilliant example of a paper on neurology. The body performs numerous voluntary and involuntary activities all of which are controlled by the peripheral and the autonomic nervous system respectively. ” The initiation and propagation of impulses in excitable tissues have long been considered chiefly from the point of view derived from the study of peripheral nerve fibers” (Bishop, 1976)  Conduction of nerve impulses along a neuron generates a response  to stimuli.   The basis of all CNS activity is reflexes that occur at the brain or spinal cord levels.

Surprisingly, most of our important bodily  functions are  nothing but reflexes, for example, breathing or digesting food. Sometimes we are well aware of the reflex action but in some cases, these actions happen almost without our knowledge.   Therefore, the conduction of nerve impulses along nerve fibers  forms  an important part in controlling functions and body activities.   The path taken by nerve impulses to generate a reflex is known as  a  reflex arc.   In humans, several reflex arcs may make up one reflex action.   The reflex arc depicts the simplest route taken by a single nerve impulse to generate a response. ”   One of the most fundamental properties of the spinal reflex is that of reciprocal innervations first described by Sherrington.

Where one set of muscles in a reflex act is activated, the activity of a set of antagonistic muscles is reciprocally depressed”   (Brown, 1914).   The components of the impulse circuits consist of – receptors, afferent nerves, brain or spinal cord, Efferent nerves, and effectors.   The stimulus is first received by the receptor tissue, organ, or cell. The receptor conducts the stimulus impulse to the efferent (sensory) nerves. The sensory nerves transmit the stimulus to the CNS which generates the appropriate response.   Interneurons are present with the CNS to transmit the impulse from the sensory to the motor nerve, thereby creating a continuous neural network.   This response is transmitted by the motor  nerves  or efferent nerves to the effector muscle, gland, or organ which finally responds to the applied stimulus.   The most important part of this entire circuit is the conduction of the impulses along  the neurons.   We may notice that excluding the receptors or the effectors, the transmission of the impulse is done by nerve  fibers which make  them the most crucial components in controlling the body systems.   Neurons consisting of dendrites and axons are linked to one another by a synapse forming a nerve fiber.

Calcium channels open when the impulse depolarizes the presynaptic membrane. The ions help in the release of neurotransmitters like acetylcholine, GABA, etc. into the synaptic cleft. With the help of these neurotransmitter chemicals, the impulses travel from one neuron to the next and along the entire neural path.   Depolarization  of the cell membrane excites the cell and initiates nerve impulse. After the impulse crosses over the cleft, the neurotransmitters involved are removed with the help of enzyme action and re-absorbed and re-cycled for transmission of the next nerve impulse.   Reflexes induced by nerve impulse conduction, help us to maintain balance and posture.

It also assists in the movement of the body.   Reflexes  help us respond  immediately to harmful stimuli and also relieve  the brain from too much work.   Therefore, we can understand the importance of impulse transmission in the body.   The role played by the nervous system in the body is of extreme importance because it helps to maintain a steady-state.   The autonomic nervous system which controls all the involuntary actions of the body is vital because without this system maintenance of homeostasis in the body would have been impossible.

For example, if  we touched a hot iron and we had no reflex to remove our hands, the skin would be burnt and we would have an injury. To understand the role of the nervous system  in the body we must understand biological processes like “ those involving the functioning of the central nervous system, which behaves as self-regulatory devices or servo- mechanisms. The pupil reflex to light is an example of such a process” (Stark and Sherman, 1956).   To see what exactly pupil accommodation is, you may look into the mirror and direct a bright torch at your  eyes, and almost immediately you will notice a change in the size of the pupil.

This constriction happens as a response to the external stimuli-light.   It is interesting to notice that even when excessive light enters just one eye, causing constriction in that eye, the pupil of the other eye automatically constricts, responding to the stimuli incident on the other eye. This can be seen in the diagram below.   Such a reflex action is known as a consensual reflex  action.   The  ANS  has two  antagonistic components-  Sympathetic and Parasympathetic (Mandal, 2013).   “ Pupil size and dynamics are controlled by two synergistic pathways that operate on the smooth muscles of the pupil” (Privitera et al, ).  In the case of pupil constriction or light reflex, the sympathetic ANS dilates the pupil while the Parasympathetic pupil constricts it.   When light falls on the retina, the  receptors present  on the retina,   transmit the impulse from the optic nerve to the Pretectal  nucleus, which is  present in the mid-brain of the right and left sides.   The impulse is then passed to the accessory  oculomotor or  the Edinger-Westphal nucleus  which forms  a part  of the third cranial nerve on either side of the brain.

The response generated is conducted via the efferent nerve  fibers  that cause contraction of the sphincter muscles of around the pupils of the eye, leading to the constriction of the pupils  within one second. The decrease in  the size of the aperture in the  eyes,   also known as miosis, allows  less light to enter and hence protects the eyes against damage of the retina owing to excessive stimulation.   The lesser amount of light also helps to create a better, sharper, and clearer image even  in bright light.     In a similar pattern, the nervous system plays an important part in controlling other important bodily functions like heart rate, expansion, and contraction of lungs, peristalsis, constriction of blood vessels, secretion of body fluids, etc.    


A. Mandal. 2013. Function of Nervous system. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 06 March 13].

Bishop, G, 1976. Natural history of Nerve impulse. Science, 193, 114-120.

Brown, G, 1914. On the nature of the fundamental activity of the nervous centers; together with an analysis of the conditioning of rhythmic activity in progression and a theory of the evolution of function in the nervous system. Journal of Physiology, 48, 18-46.

Privitera, M, 2008. The pupil dilation response to visual detection. SPIE, 6806, 3-10.

Stark and Sherman. 1956. A serve analytical study of consensual pupil reflex to light. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 08 March 13].

. 2013. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 07 March 2013].

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