Brain and Nervous System
You're in the middle of a meeting at work, but your mind keeps drifting to the parent-teacher conference you have tonight ... and the car you have to pick up at the shop on the way home ... and how you wish you hadn't skipped lunch because the rumbling in your stomach is driving you nuts. Then, suddenly, you're back in the moment, hoping nobody noticed your brief "departure."
It may seem as if your brain is always on the go. And it is. The brain not only controls what you think and feel, how you learn and remember, and the way you move and talk, but also many things you're less aware of — such as the beating of your heart, the digestion of your food, and yes, even the amount of stress you feel. Like you, your brain is quite the juggler.
Anatomy of the Nervous System
If you think of the brain as a central computer that controls all bodily functions, then the nervous system is like a network that relays messages back and forth from the brain to different parts of the body. It does this via the spinal cord, which runs from the brain down through the back and contains threadlike nerves that branch out to every organ and body part.
When a message comes into the brain from anywhere in the body, the brain tells the body how to react. For example, if you accidentally touch a hot stove, the nerves in your skin shoot a message of pain to your brain. The brain then sends a message back telling the muscles in your hand to pull away. Luckily, this neurological relay race takes a lot less time than it just took to read about it.
Considering everything it does, the human brain is incredibly compact, weighing just 3 pounds. Its many folds and grooves, though, provide it with the additional surface area necessary for storing all of the body's important information.
The spinal cord, on the other hand, is a long bundle of nerve tissue about 18 inches long and ¾ inch thick. It extends from the lower part of the brain down through spine. Along the way, various nerves branch out to the entire body. These make up the peripheral nervous system.
Both the brain and the spinal cord are protected by bone: the brain by the bones of the skull, and the spinal cord by a set of ring-shaped bones called vertebrae. They're both cushioned by layers of membranes called meninges as well as a special fluid called cerebrospinal fluid. This fluid helps protect the nerve tissue, keep it healthy, and remove waste products.
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
© 1995-2009 The Nemours Foundation. All rights reserved.
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