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Biology LibreTexts

35: The Nervous System

A nervous system is an organism’s control center: it processes sensory information from outside (and inside) the body and controls all behaviors—from eating to sleeping to finding a mate.

  • 35.0: Prelude to the Nervous System
    When you’re reading this book, your nervous system is performing several functions simultaneously. The visual system is processing what is seen on the page; the motor system controls the turn of the pages (or click of the mouse); the prefrontal cortex maintains attention. Even fundamental functions, like breathing and regulation of body temperature, are controlled by the nervous system.
  • 35.1: Neurons and Glial Cells
    Nervous systems throughout the animal kingdom vary in structure and complexity, as illustrated by the variety of animals shown in Figure 35.1.1. Some organisms, like sea sponges, lack a true nervous system. Others, like jellyfish, lack a true brain and instead have a system of separate but connected nerve cells (neurons) called a “nerve net.” Echinoderms such as sea stars have nerve cells that are bundled into fibers called nerves.
  • 35.2: How Neurons Communicate
    All functions performed by the nervous system—from a simple motor reflex to more advanced functions like making a memory or a decision—require neurons to communicate with one another. While humans use words and body language to communicate, neurons use electrical and chemical signals. Just like a person in a committee, one neuron usually receives and synthesizes messages from multiple other neurons before “making the decision” to send the message on to other neurons.
  • 35.3: The Central Nervous System
    The central nervous system is made up of the brain and spinal cord and is covered with three layers of protective coverings called meninges (from the Greek word for membrane). The outermost layer is the dura mater with the primary function for this thick layer is to protect the brain and spinal cord. The dura mater also contains vein-like structures that carry blood from the brain back to the heart. The middle layer is the web-like arachnoid mater. The last layer is the pia mater.
  • 35.4: The Peripheral Nervous System
    The peripheral nervous system (PNS) is the connection between the central nervous system and the rest of the body. The central nervious system (CNS) is like the power plant of the nervous system. It creates the signals that control the functions of the body. The PNS is like the wires that go to individual houses. Without those “wires,” the signals produced by the CNS could not control the body (and the CNS would not be able to receive sensory information from the body either).
  • 35.5: Nervous System Disorders
    A nervous system that functions correctly is a fantastically complex, well-oiled machine—synapses fire appropriately, muscles move when needed, memories are formed and stored, and emotions are well regulated. Unfortunately, each year millions of people in the United States deal with some sort of nervous system disorder.
  • 35.E: The Nervous System (Exercises)


  • Connie Rye (East Mississippi Community College), Robert Wise (University of Wisconsin, Oshkosh), Vladimir Jurukovski (Suffolk County Community College), Jean DeSaix (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill), Jung Choi (Georgia Institute of Technology), Yael Avissar (Rhode Island College) among other contributing authors. The OpenStax College name, OpenStax College logo, OpenStax College book covers, OpenStax CNX name, and OpenStax CNX logo are not subject to the creative commons license and may not be reproduced without the prior and express written consent of Rice University. For questions regarding this license, please contact Download for free at