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Physiology of the

central nervous system


General function of the nervous system (NS)

Nervous system
-communication network of neurons that allows
the organism to interact with the environment (external, internal)
main function: regulation of body functions
purpose: adaptation to changes - maintenance of homeostasis and survival

Components of the nervous system (NS)

A/ sensory part:
- detection and transmission of stimuli
B/ information processing
integration (combining several signals)
thinking, learning
memory storage and retrieval of data
planning and implementation of motor
C/ motor part: determination of response and its
transmission to effectors

1. Peripheral NS
2. Central nervous system

Levels of the CNS

Spinal cord
- conducts sensory information to the brain 
- conducts motor information to the effector organs 
- serves as a simple regulatory centre (reflexes)

damage of the spinal cord breaks down the connection between

periphery and higher centres serious consequences

- subcortical level - control of involuntary and
subconscious functions, emotions
- cortical level
- control of voluntary functions
- control of lower levels of CNS
- brain - site of cognitive (higher) functions:
memory, learning, thinking

Peripheral nervous system (PNS)

- transmits information from periphery to the central
nervous system and vice versa
- cranial nerves originate in brain (I XII)
- spinal nerves - originate in spinal cord
(C1, C2...Th,..L, S..)

A. afferent (sensory) nervous system (incoming to CNS)
B. efferent (motor) nervous system (outgoing from CNS)
a. somatic nervous system (transmit impulses to skeletal muscle)
b. autonomic nervous system (transmit impulses to smooth muscles,
cardiac muscle and glands)
I. sympathetic division (fight or flight)
II. parasympathetic division (rest and repair)

Spinal cord
white matter nerve fibres
(afferent , efferent )

grey matter cell bodies

- dorsal root sensory fibres
- ventral root motor fibres

Neurons of the spinal grey matter

motor neurons
- their axons leave via ventral roots (and cranial nerves) and terminate in muscles
(on the motor end-plate)
- discharge of a -motor neurons causes a skeletal muscle contraction
- synapse with sensory neurons, interneurons, neurons descending from brain
(pyramidal pathway)
motor neurons
- innervate muscle fibres of the muscle spindles (intrafusal muscle fibres)
- control of muscle tone
- synapse with neurons
of extrapyramidal pathways


propriospinal neurons
- short fibres,
- synapse within the spinal cord
- vertical connections

Knee jerk the patellar reflex

- tap on the tendon of m. quadriceps femoris

- the leg makes a kick (extension in knee joint occurs)

one type of function of the NS
definition: predictable, quick, stereotyped and involuntary response to stimulus
action that results from passing a nerve impulse over a reflex arc
Reflex arc the basic circuit that underlies a reflex:
1. sensory receptor gathers stimuli
2. afferent nervous fibre signal transduction into CNS
3. reflex (integration) centre processes information
4. efferent nerve fibre transduction of response
5. effector (muscle, gland) performance, response to the stimulus

Spinal reflex arc

Draw a spinal reflex arc

sensory neuron = afferent pathway

sensory neurons body


motor neuron=efferent pathway

Classification of reflexes with respect to:

A/ Count of synapses:
1. Monosynaptic
= 1 synapse in reflex arc

2. Polysynaptic
= 2 or more synapses in reflex arc

Classification of reflexes with respect to:

B/ Type of sensory receptor
Exteroceptive receptor in the reflex arc is an exteroceptor (gathers stimuli
from external environment)
Proprioceptive receptor in the reflex arc is an proprioceptor (gathers stimuli
about position of the body)
Interoceptive receptor in the reflex arc is an proprioceptor (gather stimuli
from internal environment)

C/ Centre
Cranial (brain)
Spinal (spinal cord)
Extracentral (ganglia)

D/ Effector
Somatic effector: skeletal muscle
Autonomic (visceral) effector: cardiac muscle, smooth muscle, gland

E/ Origin
Inborn related to locomotion, defence, food intake, sexual behaviour
Acquired develop during life

Monosynaptic reflexes
Muscle stretch reflexes (myotatic)

spinal reflexes centre in spinal cord

example: knee jerk

involved in movement, muscle tone and posture regulation

motor control
in part conscious
to major extent - subconscious reflex action spinal reflexes

coordination of movement depends on:

discharges in the appropriate muscles (contraction)
absence of discharges in inappropriate muscles (relaxation)

types of sensory receptors involved in

spinal reflexes:
muscle spindles
Golgi tendon organs

The muscle spindle

a stretch receptor in a muscle
a bundle of modified muscle fibres encased
in a capsule = intrafusal fibres
intrafusal fibres
paralell with all muscle fibres (extrafusal)
fixed to connective tissue of the muscle
terminal parts elastic, centre non-elastic
sensory nerve wrapped around the centre of
the intrafusal fibres

adequate stimulus for a muscle spindle:

muscle stretching
passive stretching with a reflex hammer
= stimulus that elicits a reflex

response contraction of extrafusal

muscle fibres of the same muscle

Operation of the muscle spindle

resting state

resting frequency of potentials

if the muscle spindle is passively prolonged

the spacing between the coils of the
sensory nerve become more apart
larger discharge rate trnasmitted to the motoneuron result: muscle contraction

Spinal reflexes
tapping on the muscle spindle (of different
muscles) passive prolongation = stimulation(1)

dorsal roots
afferent fibre

action potential is transmitted by afferent fibre (2)

afferent fibre enters spinal cord through posterior
afferent fibre synapses with efferent fibre (
synapse = integration centre (3) (information is
action potential is transmitted by efferent fibre (
motoneuron) into muscles (via neuromuscular
endplate) (4)
muscle contraction occurs (5-response)
this is seen as movement (flexion)

efferent fibre
ventral roots

Spinal cord

segmental organization

segments (levels) of the spinal cord contain

regulatory circuits involved in control of the
movements of a particular region of the body

Muscles in axial parts of the body

( motoneurons medial part)
= somatotopic organization

( motoneurons -lateral part)

Examination of reflexes in a human

basic examination in neurology
indicates the function of reflex arc (and all its components)
reflex - stereotypic reaction = predicted response
normoreflexia normal reflex response on a stimulus

abnormal response indicates disorder in a part of reflex arc

Abnormal results:
hyperreflexia (or clonus) hyperactive reflex
hyporeflexia diminished reflex
areflexia absence of response
abnormal reflex the response on the stimulation is abnormal

Task: Examination of reflexes in a human

sensory receptors are stimulated
the reflex response on stimulation is observed and evaluated

the patient is in sitting or lying position (depends on the reflex)
sensory receptors are stimulated by a reflex hammer, cotton,
light, needle (depends on the reflex that we want to examine)
examine following reflexes (see next slides)

Proprioceptive (deep tendon) reflexes

- sensory receptor in muscle, tendon
Masseter reflex (n V)
S: tap on a spatula put on the
lower jaw
(mouth is moderately open)
R: closing the mouth

Naso-palpebral reflex (n V,VII)

S: tap on the nasal base
R: closing of eyelids

Biceps reflex (C5)

S: tap on lacerus fibrosus m. bic. brachii
R: flexion of the forearm

Triceps reflex (C7)

S: tap on olecranon ulnae
R: extension of the forearm

Styloradial reflex (C7)

S: tap on proc. styloideus radii
R: flexion of forearm

Patellar reflex (knee jerk, L 2-4)

S: tap on the tendon of m. quadriceps
R: extension in knee joint
- the patient is sitting, and the examined
limb is put over the knee of the other
- if no response occurs, do the
Jendrassik manoeuver (abduce one
hand from another)

Achilles tendon reflex (ankle

jerk, L5-S2)
S: tap on Achilles tendon
R: extension of the foot
- the patient may lie or kneel

Achilles tendon reflex measurement


thyroid hormones (thyroxin, triiodthyronine) influence the activity of

the central nervous system

examination of Achilles tendon reflex is an indirect indicator of thyroid

activity (Ankle jerk)

reflex time (stimulation response) depends directly on the level of

thyroid hormones

normal reflex response euthyrosis

weak response hypothyrosis

excessive response hyperthyrosis

Exteroceptive reflexes
- sensory receptors in skin or mucosa

Corneal reflex (n V, VII)

S: touching the cornea with a piece of cotton
R: blinking
(used in surgery-depth of anaesthesia)

Abdominal reflexes (Th 5 Th 11)


S: drawing of the abdominal wall with a

R: muscle contraction (lying position)

Plantar reflex (L5-S2)

S: stimulation of external side of planta pedis with a needle (from heel to little
finger and other fingers)
R: plantar flexion or the toe (or all fingers)
- if pyramidal pathway is impaired the response in plantar reflex is abnormal
(this is called Babinski phenomenon)
R: extension of the toe
- normal in babies up to 6-8 months, later a sign of disorder
- indicates abnormalities in pyramidal tract

Autonomic (vegetative) reflexes

- response transmitted by autonomic fibres

Pupilary reflex
S: illumination of an eye (use battery)
R: miosis diameter of the pupil becomes narrow
- consensual reaction if one eye is illuminated,
miosis occur bilaterally

Oculocardial reflex
S: moderate pressure on the eyeball
R: decrease in pulse frequency (by 5-10 per minute)

Orthostatic reflex
S: sudden change position from lying to sitting
R: increase in pulse frequency

Clinostatic reflex
S: sudden change of position from sitting to lying
R: decrease in pulse frequency
all reflexes- measure heart rate only 15, then multiply by 4 (rate per min)

Alpha-gamma co - activation
gamma motor neurons adjust the sensitivity
of the muscle spindle
gamma fibres terminate in the polar parts of
muscle spindle
the stimulation by gamma fibres causes
contraction of muscle fibres in the polar region
(periphery) of the muscle spindle
the fibres in the centre (equatorial region)
become prolonged
= stimulus that elicits a muscle stretch reflex
that results in contraction of the muscle
response - muscle contraction
In this way the muscle tone is regulated

Gamma - fibre

1.Stretch reflex (myotatic) monosynaptic

- receptor: muscle spindle (stimulus: passive prolongation)
- signal transmitted via afferent fibre - synapse in spinal cord to:
- efferent fibre: alpha motoneuron (it gets stimulated)
- response: skeletal muscle contraction (the same muscle where the receptor is

2. Inverse myotatic reflex polysynaptic

- receptor: Golgi tendon organ (can be stimulated by very strong contraction or
- signal transmitted via afferent nerve fibre and by interneurons in spinal cord to
- efferent fibre: alpha motoneuron it gets inhibited !!!
- response: muscle relaxation (the same muscle where the receptor is located)

function: protection against rupture of the muscle

Golgi tendon organ

a proprioceptive sensory receptor organ
located at the insertion of skeletal muscle
fibers into the tendons of skeletal muscle
made up of strands of collagen connected
at one end to the muscle and at the other
with the tendon
when the muscle contracts, the collagen
fibrils are pulled tight, and this activates the
Golgi tendon organ afferent
it detects tension of the muscle
synapses with interneurons that inhibit a
response: relaxation of the muscle
(prevents rupture)

3. Flexion reflex polysynaptic

-stimulus causes response in both flexors and extensors of the same side:
1. activation of alpha motoneurons of the ipsilateral flexor muscles,
2. at the same time inhibits alpha motoneurons that supply antagonistic
extensor muscles
- example: when touching a hot object contraction of flexors and relaxation of extensors
causes removing the hand

4. Crossed extension reflex polysynaptic

a stimulus causes response on both sides in bots
extensors and flexors:
1.activation of alpha motoneurons of the
ipsilateral flexor muscles
2.inhibits alpha motoneurons that supply
antagonistic extensor muscles
- the opposite pattern occurs on contralateral
3.flexors are inhibited
4.extensors are stimulated

example: when a person steps on a nail, the leg that is

stepping on the nail pulls away, while the other leg takes
the weight of the whole body- reflex enhances postural
example: locomotor pattern generator

Monosynaptic reflex arc

Autonomic reflex arc (efferent pathway 2 neurons connected in ganglia)

Task: Measurement of the reaction time

Reaction time
- time between onset of the stimulus and the onset of a conscious reaction
-important for some professions: pilot, surgeon, sportsman, etc.
Reflex time
- time between onset of a stimulus and reflex response (involuntary)

Components the of reaction time

1. time for transfer of the information into the
primary cortex
2. time for cortical processing completed by
excitation of projection motor neurons in
gyrus praecentralis
3. time for transfer of impulse from the
projection motoneurons via medullar
motoneurons into reacting muscles
4. time of spreading of action potential in the
muscle and muscle contraction

Factors that influence the reaction time

 type of stimulus
- visual (0,195 s)
- acoustic (0,15 s), etc.
 functional characteristics of the anatomic structures that are involved
 attention (decrease duration)
 practice/skills (decrease duration)
 distractors/tiredness (prolongs reaction time)
 age (increasing age/increasing reaction time)
 alcohol (prolong reaction time)

Principle of the task

- computer generates visual and/or acoustic stimulus
- the examined person responds by pressing any key
- select a test (1-5)
- start with test 1(the easiest)
- then complete the tests 2-3-4-5
- each of the following tests is more complicated than the previous one
- requires more attention
- this should be reflected in reaction time
(more complicated test longer duration of the reaction time)

- select the count of stimuli per test (recommended is 10)


visual static
- a bright spot occurs on screen, it disappears after
- next spot occurs on the same place


visual dynamic
- a bright spot occurs on screen, it disappears after
- next spot occurs in another place


visual additive
- a bright spot occurs on screen, it does not disappears after


- the computer beeps


combined visual/acoustic
- stimulicome in random order

How to respond?

when you see/hear the stimulus, press any key

Results and conclusion

for each stimulus - record the average reaction time

compare the reaction times of all tests do the results correspond with the
level of the test?

look at the bar chart and describe how the reaction time has changed during
the course of each testing (measurement 1 10) try to explain your