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Somatic nervous system

For the musician known as Somatic, see Hahn Rowe.
Somatic nervous system
File:Somatic Nervous System Image.svg
1. (Brain) Precentral gyrus: the origin of nerve signals initiating movement.

2. (Cross Section of Spinal Cord) Corticospinal tract: Mediator of message from brain to skeletal muscles.

3. Axon: the messenger cell that carries the command to contract muscles.

4. Neuromuscular junction: the messenger axon cell tells muscle cells to contract at this intersection
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Anatomical terminology

The somatic nervous system (SoNS or voluntary nervous system) is the part of the peripheral nervous system[1] associated with skeletal muscle voluntary control of body movements. The SoNS consists of afferent and efferent nerves. Afferent nerves are responsible for relaying sensation to the central nervous system; efferent nerves are responsible for stimulating muscle contraction, including all the non-sensory neurons connected with skeletal muscles and skin.

Parts of somatic nervous system

There are 43 segments of nerves in the human body. With each segment, there is a pair of sensory and motor nerves. In the body, 31 segments of nerves are in the spinal cord and 12 are in the brain stem.

Besides these, thousands of association nerves are also present in the body.

Thus somatic nervous system consists of three parts:

  • Spinal nerves: They are peripheral nerves that carry sensory information into and motor commands out of the spinal cord.
  • Cranial nerves: They are the nerve fibers that carry information into and out of the brain stem. They include smell, vision, eye, eye muscles, mouth, taste, ear, neck, shoulders, and tongue.
  • Association nerves: These nerves integrate sensory input and motor output numbering thousands.

Nerve signal transmission

The somatic nervous system controls all voluntary muscular systems within the body, and the process of involuntary reflex arcs.

The basic route of nerve signals within the efferent somatic nervous system involves a sequence that begins in the upper cell bodies of motor neurons (upper motor neurons) within the precentral gyrus (which approximates the primary motor cortex). Stimuli from the precentral gyrus are transmitted from upper motor neurons and down the corticospinal tract, via axons to control skeletal (voluntary) muscles. These stimuli are conveyed from upper motor neurons through the ventral horn of the spinal cord, and across synapses to be received by the sensory receptors of alpha motor neurons (large lower motor neurons) of the brainstem and spinal cord.

Upper motor neurons release a neurotransmitter, acetylcholine, from their axon terminal knobs, which are received by nicotinic receptors of the alpha motor neurons. In turn, alpha motor neurons relay the stimulus.

From there, acetylcholine is released from the axon terminal knobs of alpha motor neurons and received by postsynaptic receptors (Nicotinic acetylcholine receptors) of muscles, thereby relaying the stimulus to contract muscle fibers.

Vertebrate and invertebrate differences

In invertebrates, depending on the neurotransmitter released and the type of receptor it binds, the response in the muscle fiber could either be excitatory or inhibitory. For vertebrates, however, the response of a skeletal striated muscle fiber to a neurotransmitter – always acetylcholine (ACh) – can only be excitatory.

Reflex arcs

A reflex arc is a neural circuit that creates a more or less automatic link between a sensory input and a specific motor output. Reflex circuits vary in complexity—the simplest spinal reflexes are mediated by a two-element chain, of which in the human body there is only one, also called a monosynaptic reflex (there is only one synapse between the two neurones taking part in the arc: sensory and motor). The singular example of a monosynaptic reflex is the patellar reflex. The next simplest reflex arc is a three-element chain, beginning with sensory neurons, which activate interneurons in the spinal cord, which then activate motor neurons. Some reflex responses, such as withdrawing the hand after touching a hot surface, are protective, but others, such as the patellar reflex ("knee jerk") activated by tapping the patellar tendon, contribute to ordinary behaviour.

See also