Divisions of the Autonomic Nervous System

The ANS has two divisions, the sympathetic and parasym-pathetic nervous systems. These divisions differ in anatomy and function, but they often innervate the same target organs and may have cooperative or contrasting

Figure 15.1 Autonomic Reflex Arcs in the Regulation of Blood Pressure. In this example, a rise in blood pressure is detected by baroreceptors in the carotid artery. The glossopharyngeal nerve transmits signals to the medulla oblongata, resulting in parasympathetic output from the vagus nerve that reduces the heart rate and lowers blood pressure.

effects on them. The sympathetic division prepares the body in many ways for physical activity—it increases alertness, heart rate, blood pressure, pulmonary airflow, blood glucose concentration, and blood flow to cardiac and skeletal muscle, but at the same time, it reduces blood flow to the skin and digestive tract. Cannon referred to extreme sympathetic responses as the "fight or flight" reaction because they come into play when an animal must attack, defend itself, or flee from danger. In our own lives, this reaction occurs in many situations involving arousal, competition, stress, danger, anger, or fear. Ordinarily, however, the sympathetic division has more subtle effects that we notice barely, if at all. The parasympathetic division, by comparison, has a calming effect on many body functions. It is associated with reduced energy expenditure and normal bodily maintenance, including such functions as digestion and waste elimination. This can be thought of as the "resting and digesting" state.

This does not mean that the body alternates between states where one system or the other is active. Normally both systems are active simultaneously. They exhibit a background rate of activity called autonomic tone, and the balance between sympathetic tone and parasympathetic tone shifts in accordance with the body's changing needs. Parasympathetic tone, for example, maintains smooth muscle tone in the intestines and holds the resting heart rate down to about 70 to 80 beats/minute. If the parasym-pathetic vagus nerves to the heart are cut, the heart beats at its own intrinsic rate of about 100 beats/min. Sympathetic tone keeps most blood vessels partially constricted and thus maintains blood pressure. A loss of sympathetic tone can cause such a rapid drop in blood pressure that a person goes into shock.

Neither division has universally excitatory or calming effects. The sympathetic division, for example, excites the heart but inhibits digestive and urinary functions, while the parasympathetic division has the opposite effects. We will later examine how differences in neurotransmitters and their receptors account for these differences of effect.

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Responses

  • Frank Koch
    What autonomic division maintains blood pressure?
    8 years ago
  • Aapo
    How is the Both divisions of the autonomic nervous system are normally active simultaneously.?
    6 years ago

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