THE NERVOUS SYSTEM

 

 

All organisms are endowed the ability to control their environments (external and internal environments). In the external environment, the organism must be able to notice an unfriendly or inhospitable surrounding and to protect itself. The nervous system (NS) has the most complex organization of cells that receive information from the outside and inside environments and integrate these activities in the central nervous system (CNS). By coordinating these activities in conjunction with chemical regulation, the nervous system maintains homeostasis, balance and protects the organism.

 

COMPONENTS OF THE NERVOUS SYSTEM

 

·        The nervous system is similar to a computer.

The CNS functions similar to the central processing unit (CPU) of the computer.

·        The main function of the CNS and CPU is processing and integration of information.  Information is sent to CNS through the sensory nervous system (SNS) similar to typing information using the keyboard.

·        After processing, the information is sent out through another pathway called the motor nervous system (MNS).

·        This unit of the nervous system is similar to an output device (printer, monitor).

·        The NS has three main components:  The central nervous system (CNS) is the central processing center. Information from all parts of the body are received, processed and commands are issued for the response.

·        The motor nerve system (MNS) deals with sending out information. The CNS uses this branch to send out nerve signals to muscles (voluntary and involuntary) and to glands for hormone secretion.

·        Sensory nerve system (SNS) is the branch that acts as an input device, transmitting information or signals from all parts of the body to the CNS.

·        The end organs are not essentially a fourth component, but they are an integral part of the system. The end organs include muscles (voluntary and involuntary), glands, specialized senses and the skin.

·       Nerves from the motor neurons are also called efferent fibers which carry signals to the end organs. Sensory or afferent neurons carry sensory signals from these organs to the CNS for processing, integration and relay to the MNS for output.

 

Central  Nervous System

( Brain and  Spinal cord

     

                                        

 

 

Motor Nervous Syst

(Efferent Nerves)

 

Sensory Nervous System

(Afferent Nerves)

 

 

 

 

        End Organ

 (Muscle, Glands

  Skin and Senses)

 

                               

 

EVOLUTION OF THE NERVOUS SYSTEM

 

The nervous system evolved from simple nerve-net-like arrangements to a complex, organized network of computer-like systems. The level of development, adaptive changes and sophistication depend on the activities of the organisms and its development in the evolutionary ladder.

 

In simple invertebrate animals such as cnidarians, the nervous system is a simple net-like arrangement. In hydra for example, the nervous system is a nerve net scattered all over the organism without any control center. This arrangement is appropriate for simple animals without a head or tail. The organism has no sense of direction as it moves. However, evolutionary changes began to emerge as the animals became more sophisticated and structurally more complex as in flat worms, insects and human beings. 

 

In bilateral and symmetrical animals such as flatworms with a clearly defined head and tail regions, the central nervous system appears more organized. The head contains a concentrated mass of nerve tissue called the brain. Two parallel nerve cords project from the brain to the tail region. Small nerve cords radiate from the main cord and interconnect other cords, thus forming a ladder-shaped network, which form the peripheral nervous system (PNS). Thus, central nervous system in bilateral animals consists of the brain and nerve cords. Which form the PNS. Adaptive and structural changes emerged as clearly evident in insects and segmented worms.

 

The nervous system in insects (arthropods) and earthworms (annelids) among a host of others is more advance probably because of evolutionary changes. The brain center consists of ganglia (group of fused nerve tissues) from which emerged a single ventral nerve cord. Nerve branches radiate from the ventral nerve cord to each body segment as ganglia. The ganglia in the various segments of the organism form the PNS.  In vertebrates, the nervous is developed into clearly defined areas.

 

Humans and higher animals represent the highest evolutionary advancement in structure and development. In humans, for example, the CNS consists of the brain   in a protective skull and the spinal cord also in vertebral column of bones. The brain directs and controls the activities of the NS. The spinal cord processes information related to motor controls. Nerve branches radiate from the spinal cord and run down the upper and lower extremities. These nerved connections form the PNS.

 

CELLS OF THE NERVOUS SYSTEM

 

 

Neurons are the functional units of the nervous system.

 

1.         Unipolar neurons

These are neurons that have a single nerve fiber extending from its cell body. The fiber immediately divides into two branches. One branch enters the brain and serves as an axon and the other branch enter the periphery of the body as dendrites.

 

 

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2.Bipolar neurons

Bipolar neurons have two nerve fibers extending from their cell body, one arising from each end. One of the fibers serves as an axon and the other serves as a dendrite. Such neurons are found in the nose, ears and specialized parts of the eye.

 

3.Multipolar

Multipolar neurons have many dendrites arising from their cell bodies. There is only one axon in multipolar neurons and the remaining are dendrites. Most of the neurons with cell bodies within the brain or spinal cord are multipolar neurons.

 

 

 

Support cells provide many functions including nourishment, insulation, and structural framework.

 

1.                  Astrocytes.

These cells are mostly found in blood vessels and nervous tissues. They provide structural, maintain support; maintain nutrients; and help form scar tissue, which fills spaces after injury.

 

2.                  Oligodendrocytes.

These cells are usually found in rows along nerve fibers and they provide myelin insulation for neurons in the brain and spinal cord.

 

3.                  Microglia cells.

These cells function in phagocytosis cleaning debris and bacterial cells. They are found scattered all over the CNS.

 

4.                  Ependymal cells

Ependymal cells form the inner lining of the ventricles (spaces) found within the brain and central canal of the spinal cord. They also form epithelia-like membranes such as choroid plexuses that cover specialized brain parts.

 

 

 

WHAT ARE NEURONAL SIGNALS

 

 

Signals are electrical messages

 

Information or nerve signals are transmitted in two ways: electrical and chemical signals. What make up these signals and how are they transmitted and stored:  To answer these questions let us first look at what make up signals. Signals are electrical ions or charges. These signals are cationic electrolytes such as sodium ions (Na+), potassium ions (k+) and anions such as chloride ions (Cl-), hydroxyl ions (OH-) or sulfate ions (SO4-).

 

Resting membrane potential, action potential and refractory period of neurons.

 

 

Resting membrane potential

(-). This charge difference across the cell membrane is called the resting membrane potential.

 

Action Potential (AP)

What happens when the Na+ ions gates open and how does it affect the movement of ions? 

           

A synapse may be electrical or chemical

 

Neurotransmitters may cause excitation or inhibition.

 

·        How do we accept good or bad news?  We are elated or may even shout for joy or show our outward emotion.  We may show the same feeling for bad news or events that we consider unappealing. 

 

 

Table 15.                      Major Neurotransmitters and their locations

Group                          Transmitter                   Possible                       

Name                           substance                     function                        Comments

 

Acetylcholine               Acetylcholine                Excitatory/                    In skeletal muscles

(Ach)                                                               Stimulatory

 

Amino acids                Gama-amino-               Inhibitory                      Maj. transmitter in

butyric acid                                                       brain

(GABA)

                                    Glutamate                     Excitatory                     Found in brain

 

                                    Glycine             Inhibitory/        

                                                                        Excitatory

Biogenic amines          Dopamine                     Evokes                         Degeneration leads to

(Monoamines)                                                  excitation                      Parkinson’s disease

                                                                       

Norepinephrine                                     Excitation/                    Cocaineblocks the site

(NE)                                                                inhibitory                      amphetamines release

                                    Serotonine                    Excitation                     Found in brain

                                    (5-TH)            

Neuroactive                Somatostatin                 Inhibit secretion            Controlled by GHRH

Peptides                                                           of growth

                                                                        Hormone

                                    Endorphins/                                                      Has opiate-like

                                    Enkephalins                  Analgesic                      properties

 

 

                                                                                                           

NERVOUS SYSTEM AND DRUGS

 

Chemical molecules play a major role in the nervous system. We have examined neurons and how endogenous chemicals such as Ach, EP, NEP and others influence how we react (e.g., movements, respiration, heartbeats and more). We believe that neurotransmitters cause excitation and also lead to depression. That means, impulses may selectively release excitatory or inhibitory transmitter molecules. Now, we want to examine the influence of the intake of exogenous stimulants or depressants.

 

Chemical stimulants may produce excitatory or inhibitory neurotransmitters.

 

            Some of our household drinks are stimulants. Here is a list of examples. Coffee contains caffeine, herbal tea contains thiobromine and thiophilline, Coca cola, Pepsi and Sprite contain caffeine. Some individuals on medication receive sedatives or tranquilizers (depressants), while others are on amphetamines (stimulants). How do these chemicals affect our mood and performance? Chemicals we take into our body may function at several levels: they may stimulate, inhibit or produce both as combined effects.

 

1.                  Stimulation.

The intake of coffee, amphetamines, or nicotine might produce more excitatory transmitter molecules. Coffee intake might also produce synergistic effects (attenuate the effects of the neurotransmitter). These effects may be the exact opposite in some individuals.

 

2.                  Inhibition.

 The intake of coffee might also produce inhibitory neurotransmitters (e.g., GABA, glycine); also it may attenuate the effects of GABA. While coffee keeps most awake, it makes others sleep or relaxes them probably because in these individuals, inhibitory rather than excitatory transmitters are released.

 

3.                  Combination effects.

The intake of some stimulants does not produce any stimulation even in individuals that are sensitive to the stimulatory effects. These individuals are not sad or happy. It appears the stimulants produced both excitatory and inhibitory transmitters in such individuals. It may have something to do with the dose of caffeine (it is either low or too high).

 

With this in mind, let us examine why we become addicted to some chemicals, depressed or hyperactive sometimes. It is believed that the effect of many drugs in our system depends on individual susceptibility. This may explain why some individuals may find caffeine or nicotine relaxing to the extent that it induces sleep; while others find it stimulatory therefore it keeps them awake. Let us now examine chemical dependence (drug addiction), depression and hyperactivity.

 

Chronic use of a chemical substance produces chemical dependence. 

 

Drug potency

The response of a chemical substance is dependent primarily on dose (strength or potency) in addition to other factors. When a chemical substance is consumed, the dosage is probably sufficient to produce the desired effect (e.g., excite, inhibit). In most cases, the desired effect of the drug is achieved based on the recommended dose and conditions of administering the drug. If the desired effect is not produced, the strength may be increased. An individual abuses a drug when it is used continuously with increasing dosage over an extended period of time. The chronic use of the drug results in drug addiction or chemical dependence. It means the individual uses the chemical to perform daily chores (physical dependence) and for mood elevation (emotional stability). There are many individuals who use prescription drugs such as morphine for pain relief, but have then become addicted to the drug. 

 

Controlled and addictive substances

Morphine and other psychoactive drugs such as diazepam (Valium) and imipramine are controlled substances and can only be prescribed by physicians. Morphine is used for pain relief and also used during surgery. Valium is an antianxiety drug used to control anxiety disorders and Imipramine is an antidepressant drug used in the treatment of mood changes and depression. These substances are addictive because diseases such as depression, anxiety disorder a chronic pains problems related chemical imbalance or symptoms of other preexisting conditions. Consequently the individuals continue to take the drug until tolerance level is reached. It means that the drug dose is no longer effective in producing desired responses therefore a stronger dose is needed.

 

Drugs and neurotransmitters

            These chemical compounds affect the release of neurotransmitter molecules. Morphine appears to block pain reception at the nerve endings, therefore, it may be associated with blocking neurotransmitter molecules, or may be enhancing the secretion of inhibitory neurotransmitters such as GABA, glutamic acid and glycine. It may also promote the residence time of these inhibitors by preventing their degradation, or delaying the sensitivity of degradative enzymes such as monoamine oxidases. Similarly, Valium (antihypertensive) may work by inhibiting excitatory neurotransmitters associated with mood such as serotonin (5-hydroxy trypthamine) or suppressing their release at the presynaptic knobs. Imipramine also functions similarly. It is an antidepressant drug therefore its administration may stimulate excitatory neurotransmitters (EP, NEP, Ach, 5-HT). It may also suppress the release of inhibitory neurotransmitter chemicals.

 

Depression may be associated with frequent release of inhibitory neurotransmitter molecule.

 

Why do some individuals feel depressed?  Depression may be defined as a state of melancholy, sadness or unhappiness most of the time.  Accidents and the loss of a loved one may evoke unhappy feelings, but some individuals remain depressed almost always. Such individuals have mood depression as a disease. What happens to those individuals?

            Excitatory and inhibitory neurotransmitters are constantly released in every individual depending on what turns us on. Good new evokes excitatory stimulants or neurotransmitters and bad new elicits inhibitory transmitters. Sometimes both inhibitory and excitatory transmitters may be release but to different targets. This is often the case in some women who give birth to a baby and soon afterwards become sad or depressed. They call it postpartum depression. Since these neurotransmitters are secreted independently, there is a chemical balance. 

What happens if the balance is lost and the nerve impulse results in the production of more inhibitory neurotransmitter molecules? Let us suppose that the excitatory neurotransmitter molecule receptors are degenerated, that means less receptors and more neurotransmitters. This would result in chemical imbalance. It appears depression may be related to imbalance of brain neurotransmitters. Inhibitory neurotransmitter chemicals are released more frequently than normal. This is similar to the case in Parkinson’s disease where instability in nerve firing occurs because of the degeneration of the opposing nerves. Antidepressant drugs such as Valium and others are used in the management of individuals with depression.

 

Anxiety or hyperactivity may be associated with overactive excitatory neurotransmitter molecules.

 

You must have heard about anxiety attacks. What does it mean anyway? What about nervousness? They are all related, if not similar. Some individuals are overly anxious or appear anxious in anticipation of an event, performance, and public speaking and display such emotions. These nuances are considered normal; however, they are sometimes extreme. What is happening to such individuals?

            Similar to the conditions in depression, hyperactivity may be related to excessive secretion of excitatory neurotransmitter molecules. Excessive firing of neurons perhaps causes the release of excitatory neurotransmitter molecules (Ach, Serotonin, NEP, EP, glutamate). These molecules, depending on the target would produce various effects ranging from nervousness (excessive firing of the nerves), excessive motor activities (pacing up and down, wring the fingers, sweating and more). It is also possible that in some individuals, the normal amount of excitatory neurotransmitters is secreted. However, endogenous molecules or other chemicals that were used by the individual may increase the residence time of the molecules in the target organ, or prevent disintegration by enzymes. Antianxiety drugs (e.g. Imipramine) are used to treat anxiety disorders and related problems.

 

SENSORY and MOTOR NERVOUS SYSTEMS

The sensory nervous system (SNS) is the second arm of the nervous system responsible for collecting information and sending it to the CNS. The SNS informs the CNS about what is going on within the body. The sense organs (eyes, nose, mouth, ear) form part of the highways accessibility through which information is delivered. They serve as special conduits for information vital to our body. The senses referred to are:  the somatic senses of touch, pressure, temperature, pain, the special sense of vision, smell, equilibrium, hearing and taste. Both the specialized senses and somatic senses deal with environmental stimuli and how we are able to feel the sensations of the stimuli and how the stimuli are transmitted to the CNS.

The motor nervous system receives processed information from the CNS and sends the signals through efferent motor fibers (nerves). The motor fibers send the signal to voluntary skeletal muscles.  In contrast, the autonomic nervous system (ANS) controls the glands and the smooth involuntary muscles. The glands secret hormones and other chemical mediators after receiving commands from the CNS, however, these hormonal secretions are not under our conscious effort.

Let us look at these aspects of the sensory nervous and motor nervous systems in the CNS and Spinal cord.

 

 

II.      THE CENTRAL NERVOUS SYSTEM

 

In humans, the brain consists of cerebrum (center for thought and memory association); hypothalamus-thalamus (center for processing information), cerebellum and brain stem (center for locomotion and coordination) and the spinal cord, an extension of the brain consists of motor and sensory nerves in the cervical, thoracic and lumber regions of the spine.

 

A.    Embryological Development

 

During the development stages, the brain starts out as a tube in most mammals. The tube has three bulges or balloon-like structures at one end of the third week of conception.

·        The first part is prosencephalon (forebrain); mesencephalon (midbrain) and rhobemencephalon (hindbrain).

·        After 5wks, telencephalon and diencephalons form develop from the forebrain (prosencephalon); the hind brain forms metencephalon (afterbrain)  and myelin-cephalon (form spinal cord).

·         These structures form the brain and the other end forms the spinal cord. 

·        The cerebrum develop from telencephalon; diencephalons forms the hypothalamus, thalamus and epithalamus.

·        Mesencephalon, metencephalon and myelencephalon develop into cerebellum and midbrain or brain stem (pons and medulla oblongata).

 

B.  Characteristics of the CNS

·        The entire CNS is protected by a bony capsule – the cranium and the vertebral column protects the spinal cord.

·        The cranium is covered with membrane called meminges of which there are three: dura mater (out layer), arachnoid (middle) and pia mater (interior layer).

·        The surface of brain contains ridges called gyri (gyrus, singular) and are separated by valleys called sulci and deeper valleys or grooves are called fissure. 

·        There are five lobes: frontal, parietal, occipital, temporal and the insula lobe.

·        Two cerebral hemispheres exist which are mirrow images and are connected in the middle by a bundle of nerves called corpus collasum.

 

C.   Functions of the Brain

1.   Cerebrum

·        Cerebrum is the center for control, thought and associations.

 

 2. Thalamus and hypothalamus

·        Thalamus and hypothalamus are centers for   processing information.

 

3.   Cerebellum
·        Cerebellum coordinates motor functions.

 

4.   The brainstem

·        The brainstem has centers for breathing (pneumatic center), digestive functions, heartbeat (rhythmic center) and blood pressure.

 

III.  PERIPHERAL N. SYSTEM

 

·        The peripheral nervous system uses special senses to connect the body to the outside environment.

·        Spinal cord relays sensory and motor signals to the brain.

 

 

 

THE MOTOR NERVOUS SYSTEM

 

 

Reflexes are automatic unconscious responses to stimuli.

 

 

            The knee jerk reflex (also called the patella reflex) utilizes two neurons: a sensory (afferent) neuron, which carries information to the spinal cord and brain. After processing the message is sent via a motor neuron (efferent) that ends in the effector organ (muscle). The reflex is initiated by striking the patella ligament. This action causes the quadriceps femoris group of muscles, attached to the patella by tendon, to pull up. The receptors located in the muscles received the impulse and become stimulated. The receptors send the signal along the sensory neuron into the spinal cord. The relay signal leaves the spinal cord through the motor (efferent) neuron and stimulates quadriceps femoris, resulting in the extension of the leg. Another type of reflex, such as the withdrawal reflex, works in a similar way. 

 

 

IV.  AUTONOMIC NERVOUS SYSTEM

 

Autonomic NS controls involuntary muscles functions and glands.

 

 

·        The ANS neurons carry messages from the brain to the involuntary muscles and glands, to perform normal functions even when we are sleeping.

·        The brain therefore, uses the ANS as the center for maintenance of homeostasis of the heartbeat, blood pressure, breathing, digestion and chemical regulation (hormones and other chemical secretions).

·        Thus, the maintenance of homeostasis is accomplished through two branches of the ANS that oppose each other. The branches are the sympathetic NS and parasympathetic NS.      

 

The sympathetic NS

 

 
Parasympathetic NS

 

 

 

 

Table  14.  Sympathetic and Parasympathetic systems and their  End organs

                                  Pre                     Post                            

System             ganglion            ganglion            Organ           Effect on organ

Norepinephrine

(Sympathetic)   short                 long                  pupil                 dilate pupil

                                    short                 long                  bronchi incr. in respiration

                                    short                 long                  heart                 incr. heartbeat

                                    short                 long                  liver                  release glucose

                                    short                 long                  pancreas           release glucagon

                                    short                 long                  stomach            incr. stomach secretions

                                    short                 long                  kidney  empty kidney content

Acetylcholine

(Parasympathetic)         long                  short                 pupil                 constrict or normal

                                    Long                                        bronchi decr. in respiration

                                    long                                          heart                 decr. heartbeat or normal

                                    long                                          liver                  terminate glucose release

                                    long                                          pancreas           terminate glucagon

                                    long                                          stomach            decr. stomach secretions

                                    long                                          kidney  hold kidney content

 

 

 

Sensory receptors detect, receive and transmit various environmental stimuli.

 

The sensory nervous system transmits information to the CNS. Part of the information is obtained from our interaction with the outside and the changes associated with the interaction. The information is made available through sensory receptors. The receptors contain sensory neurons, which carry the information to the CNS. There are basically three ways environmental changes are detected. It is through detecting the stimulation, receiving the stimulation and transmission. Our body contains various receptors that receive different types of environmental stimulation. The general function of these receptors include:

 

1.                  Detection of stimulus.

The receptor detects environmental stimuli (e.g. touch sensation or pressure sensation).

 

2.                  Receiving the stimulus.

The receptors associated with touch sensation receives the sensation and sends it to the neurons which respond by sending nerve impulse, causing membrane depolarization.

 

3.                  Transmission.

The nerve impulse is passed on to sensory afferent fibers, which carry the impulse to the CNS.

 

Classification of sensory receptors

 

The receptors or sensors are the means whereby the CNS is informed about what our body is experiencing both inside and outside. The receptors are broadly classified in the following categories according to their function: receptors that senses our body; receptors that sense gravity; receptors that sense the exterior; receptors that locate chemicals; receptors that detect sound and receptors that detect light (photosensors).

 

Receptors that sense our body

            Changes that are experienced both inside and outside our body as a result of environmental stimuli are coordinated in the hypothalamus through a center that deals with homeostasis (maintenance of normal operating conditions). Through this center changes in thermoreceptors (temperature), mechanoreceptors (blood pressure), nociceptors (pain), chemoreceptors (changes in blood constituents), proprioceptors (contractions in tendons and ligaments) and touch sensations are monitored.

 

1.                  Thermoreceptors.

The CNS monitors temperature changes both in side the body and outside. It is able to do this by using two temperature sensors, one for cold and another for hot. Within these extremes the brain is able to make necessary adjustments. Inside the body, constant body-temperature is maintained and outside adjustments are made by contracting muscles and regulating blood vessel diameter for heat loss.

 

2.                  Mechanoreceptors.

Blood vessel walls contain sensitive nerve endings called Baroreceptors, which monitor changes in the blood pressure (BP). Blood vessels as you know contain elastic properties (ability to stretch and recoil). Changes in the diameter of the blood vessel occur when the vessel expands and contracts. When the vessel walls stretch, the nerve endings pick up the sensation and relate this information to the brain. Depending on the frequency of stretching and contracting, the brain makes the adjustment for the BP by increasing or decreasing the heart rate.

 

3.                   Nociceptors.

 Pain receptors are also known as nociceptors.  Most of the body surfaces are covered with pain receptors. They are naked dendrites that respond to chemicals produced by damaged tissues, stimuli from heat or pressure. Pain receptors protect from us from external harm and alert us to impending harm inside.

 

4.                  Chemoreceptors.

There are several of these receptors in our body and their function is to monitor chemical changes. Chemoreceptors alert the body to changes in blood pH by monitoring changes in hydrogen ion concentration. As the blood pH drops, adjustments are made. The concentration of carbon dioxide is also monitored. The senses of taste and smell also perform these functions. We are able to smell the aroma in scent, flowers and different things around us. The receptors in taste buds also monitor chemicals in foods.

 

5.                  Proprioceptors.

Muscle fibers contain stretch receptors attached to the sensory neurons in the muscle. The receptor monitors movements associated with stretching and turning in tendons, ligament and muscle during contraction. The information is sent to centers in the CNS, which coordinates movement. The centers use the information to coordinate our movement against gravitational force and to maintain our balance.

 

6.                  Touch.

Touch receptors are also known as mechanoreceptors or pressure receptors. Their function is to sense pressure changes. There are several types of pressure changes. Baroreceptors detect changes in BP in the arterial walls, stretch receptors of the lungs and muscles, and pressure changes related to balance in the middle ear.

 

Receptors that sense gravity

                                    Propriorecetors in the muscle monitors the movement and stretch of muscle, ligament and tendons. In addition, receptors in the ear also monitor balance. These receptors working in concert provide information through sensory relay about the position of the body relative to gravity and use that information to maintain our balance as we move.

 

1.                  Balance. 

Gravity acts on every thing on earth. A center of gravity is maintained for every individual, whether we are dancing, running, or walking. The center of gravity is an imaginary vertical line that passes through our body from head to foot, when we are not moving. Balance consists of static (head movement) and dynamic (rotational) equilibrium. If the body shifts too far to the left or right, we lose our balance and fall. The movement of fluid in the semicircular canals stimulates hair cells and movement of the otolithic membrane in the utricle and saccule which stimulates the otolith sensory receptors located in the middle eye. The receptor carries information to the CNS about the position of the head and the body relative to gravity. This information enables the CNS to maintain our balance relative to gravity.

 

2.                  Motion. 

Our movement is also dependent on balance. Our body weight counterbalances each time we move any part of our limbs, upper or lower parts of the body. Balance is based on the same mechanisms we have described. The semicircular canals of the middle ear contain fluid in the cupula. Our bodily movement (e.g. rotational movement) causes the fluid to move which in turn stimulates hair cells in the ampulla. Sensors (otolith sensory receptors) attached to the inner ear send the information to the brain. Eustachian tube, which connects the middle ear to the back of the throat, equilibrates air pressure within the middle and inner ear to the rest of the body. Pressure receptors also send signals about pressure changes to the CNS. These signals are used to maintain balance in our movement

 

Sensing the exterior

Locating the position and specific information about an object, for example a pineapple plant would be difficult were it not for the eyes or sense of smell. Human beings are dependent primarily on our sense of vision in locating objects.  How do we locate or sense the position of objects?

 

1.                  Direction. 

If we were to close our eyes and attempt to locate the pineapple plant, we would have very limited chance. At best our sense of smell would give limited direction. We would move in a zigzag direction using our sense of smell to guide us to the location. Interestingly, individuals that have lost their vision develop other senses of direction. Vision-impaired individuals can take the bus or train to a desired destination.

 

2.                  Location.

In locating the pineapple plant, our sense of smell gives us the direction. The strong scent of the pineapple guides our direction leading us to the location of the pineapple. Dogs have a very strong sense of smell in detecting chemicals and decomposed materials. This is one of the reasons why some dogs are trained to detect drugs.  Bats cannot see well at night, although they are nocturnal creatures. However, they locate prey and determine their distance by echoes, the same way humans would locate objects by sound.

 

3.                  Imaging.

Animals locate objects mostly by vision. However, not all animals depend on image to locate objects. Some animals depends more on other devices such as smell, noise or vibration (echoes). It appears vision is properly developed in higher animals than in lower animals. Imaging gives a three dimensional appearance, color and approximate location relative to the surrounding of the object.

 

Receptors that sense chemicals

Humans and animals have the gift of being able to detect chemicals. Most animals including dogs have highly developed receptors for detecting chemicals. The organs that enable us to detect chemicals are: sense of taste and our sense of smell.

1.                  Taste. 

In most all animals, the tongue performs many functions such as tasting the food; mixing saliva; rolling the food; and moving the food until it is swallowed. One of the most important of the functions the tongue is to taste food. The back of the tongue contains taste buds or receptors for bitter, sour, salty and sweet.  These receptors are connected to sensory neurons. When any of these chemicals are detected in food, the neurons transmit the information to the brain.

 

2.                  Smell.

Smell receptors also called olfactory receptors are located in the roof of the nose in our nasal passage; they are connected to the olfactory sensory nerves. These receptors are able to detect a variety of chemical molecules. They are transmitted to Smell the brain through the sensory fibers. Dogs and other animals have a strong sense of smell. Most animals depend on their sense of smell to prey on animals or avoid predation.

 
Receptors that detect sound

            Imagine not being able to hear a whisper or hear songs. Furthermore, imagine not being able to hear spoken words.  Hearing is vital to the complete wellness of the individual. It is equally important not only to be able to hear, but also to visualize, taste and smell. How do we hear what we hear?

 

 

1.               Sound waves.

Sound or noise that we hear in any form (vibrations, bird’s noises, singing, etc) travels in air in the form of sound waves or oscillations. Sound waves can be collected and analyzed for different patterns, pitch, energy and frequencies.  Figure 150.  Structures of the Ear.  (# 0412011)

 

 

2.                  Sound waves strike the eardrum.

The external ear leads to a thin membrane at the end of the tunnel. This membrane is also called eardrum or tympanic membrane. The vibration is transmitted to the middle ear ossicles.

 

 

3.                  The middle ear contains ossicles.

The ossicles are three separate bones: malleus, incus and stapes. The malleus is attached to the eardrum and stapes is attached to an oval window (fenestra ovalis) in a structure called cochlea. All three bones are connected to each other in the middle ear. The middle ear is also directly linked to the Eustachian tube, which opens to the throat. Vibrations from the ossicles are sent through the oval window, which make echoes and further vibrations are produced.  Figure 150A. View of Middle Ear showing the Ear Ossicles and Tympanic Membrane  (# 0610019)

 

4.                  The cochlea.

The cochlea contains fluids and it is also connected to the auditory nerve that contains hair cells at its terminal. Vibrations echoed or amplified through the cochlea cause the fluid in spiral-shaped organ to move. The fluid motion transmits sound signals through sensory neurons to the brain. Figure 150B. View of the Inner Ear showing the Cochlea, Auditory Nerve and Semi-circular Canals  (# 0610012)

 

For individuals who are not able to hear, it appears the tympanic membrane is damaged so that sound waves are not striking the membrane. Some individuals are able to use artificial hearing aid devices. Some others lost their hearing due to a genetic defect. Those individuals depend on lip-reading or sign language to get messages across to them (Figure 150A).

 

Receptors that detect light

            Our eyes play a significant role in capturing images in our environment. For humans and most animals, the eye plays an important role in our ability to avoid a hostile environment or defend our territory. The ability of the eye to perceive images is due to two receptors called rods and cones. Through these receptors light energy (photons) are captured and transmitted to pigments in rods and cones. The signals are sent through sensory neurons to the CNS. Let us examine the structure of the eye and how it is able to carry out its functions based on the receptors.

 

1.                  External structures. 

The eye has an outside tissue called eyelids, which opens or closes as needed; a sclera is the first membrane covering the eye. It contains an aperture covered with a clear lens. The lens are held in position by iris muscles. Contraction of the iris muscles pulls the lens into convex or concave shape for needed adjustments. 

 

2.                  Internal structures.

Choroid and retina are the middle and inner membranes respectively. The optic nerve (sensory neurons to the brain) and blood vessels enter the eye at the back of the eye. The retina provides the surface for the blood vessel, nerve endings and the receptors, rods and cones.

 

3.                  Rods and Cones receptors.

Rods and cones are receptors or sensors, which contain pigments that absorb light or photons. The pigments are called carotinoids and forms part of larger protein molecules called rhodopsin. The pigments are obtained from nutrients that we eat. For example, the yellow color in most yellow foods such as orange, squash, yellow potatoes and carrots is due to carotenes. These receptors are able to change their shape from a cis to a trans form of

Figure 151. Anatomic Structures of the Eye showing Sclera, Retina, Rods and Cones of the Eye.  (# 0412034)

 

4.                  Color vision.

Three types of cones (each with different amino acids sequence and shape) enable us to view color. The differences in shape contribute to differences in absorption spectrum. For example cones absorb light at 455 nm for blue, 530 nm for green and 625 for red.

 

5.                  Vision Mechanism. 

Here is a synopsis of how we see images. If you have an idea how a camera works it will be easy to understand. If you don’t, it will be a lot easier to understand. Light enters the eye through the pupil of the lens. The lens is adjusted so that the aperture opens wide or closes a little (very much like controlling the F stop of a camera). This is similar to focusing your camera on the subject, adjusting the distance and F-stops for more or reduced light. The image that is captured is focused by the lens and placed on the retina that contains light-sensitive pigments and the sensory optic nerve. Similar to the camera, by clicking on the shutter knob, the image is captured on the film. The image is transmitted to the brain.

 

6.                  Vision and Problems

There are several problems associated with vision.  The range from color blindness (inability to see a whole range of colors), Xeropthalmia (vitamin A deficiency related blindness disease to age related myopia, hyperopia and astigmatism. 

 

Color blindness is a genetically related disease that affects the males mostly and it is passed on the male members through the Y-gene.  Xeropthalmia is a disease is the inability to see clearly at night (also called night-blindness) and it is associated with Vitamin A deficiency in the diet. Proper intake of foods rich in Vitamin A (Orange juice, squash, carrots, banana most yellow-colored fruits and vegetables) would prevent occurrence of this deficiency. Myopia and Hyperopia are the most common visual problems in the world.  They occur later in age in most individuals although not excluded in children and young adults.  In Myopia the object is focused in front of the retina (not on it). As a result, the individual in not able to see clearly adjacent objects (Nearsightednes).  This problem occurs because of the stretching of the eyeball to compensate for vision as the body changes. It is corrected by wearing a concave lense or glass. 

Hyperopia is the reverse of Myopia in which the individual has difficulty seeing objects at a distance (Farsightedness).  The light-rays and the object are focused behind the retina rather than on it.  It is corrected by wearing a convex lense or glass .

Astigmatism is the condition in which the light-rays do not focus at all, thus making it difficult for the individual to see clearly.  This problem is corrected by wearing an uneven prescription lense. 

·                    Color blinded individual see only few colors; Xeropthalmia is night-blindness as a result of vitamin A deficiency; Myopia is shortsightedness; Hyperopia is farsightedness and Astigmatism is the inability of the eye to focus properly. Color blindness is not easily corrected but all other are corrected by wearing prescription glasses or devices.