Tell Me > Science > Body Systems > Your Nervous System

Your Nervous System

Tasting, smelling, seeing, hearing, thinking, dreaming, breathing, heart beating, moving, running, sleeping, laughing, singing, remembering, feeling pain or pleasure, painting, writing ... you couldn't do any of these things without your central nervous system! 

What is the nervous system?
Made up of your brain, your spinal cord, and an enormous network of nerves that thread throughout your body, it's the control center for your entire body. Your brain uses information it receives from your nerves to coordinate all of your actions and reactions. Without it, you couldn't exist! 

What are nerves? 
They're the thin threads of nerve cells, called neurons that run throughout your body. Bundled together, they carry messages back and forth just the way that telephone wires do. Sensory nerves send messages to the brain and generally connect to the brain through the spinal cord inside your backbone. Motor nerves carry messages back from the brain to all the muscles and glands in your body. 

So how do they they pass along messages? 
Through the marvels of chemistry and a kind of electricity! Neurons are thin. Some are very small, and some can be three feet long! All are shaped somewhat like flat stars which have, to varying degrees, been pulled at each end so that they have long fingers. The fingers of one neuron almost reach to the next neuron. 

When a neuron is stimulated -- by heat, cold, touch, sound vibrations or some other message -- it begins to actually generate a tiny electrical pulse. This electricity and chemical change travels the full length of the neuron. But when it gets to the end of finger-like points at the end of the neuron, it needs help getting across to the next extended finger. That's where chemicals come in. The electrical pulse in the cells triggers the release of chemicals that carry the pulse to the next cell. And so on and so on and so on. 

Remind you of anything? 
How about a cool relay of dominoes in which one standing domino falls and trips the next and the next and the next.