In this collection, we will go over The Nervous System talking about the General functions of the CNS, Generation and propagation of an action potential, The Peripheral Nervous System, The Sympathetic and Parasympathetic Systems, Nervous Tissue, The Limbic System and Higher Mental Functions.

This collection is important to all medical students

Study Set Content:
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Human Physiology/The Nervous System


Human Physiology/The Nervous System


Integumentary System 


Human Physiology
































Reproduction (male) 


Reproduction (female) 









central nervous system 

includes the 



spinal cord

. The brain and spinal cord are protected by bony

structures, membranes, and fluid. The brain is held in the cranial cavity of the skull and it consists of the 




, and the 

brain stem

. The nerves involved are cranial nerves and spinal nerves.

Nervous system

Overview of the entire nervous system

The nervous system has three main functions: sensory input,

integration of data and motor output. Sensory input is when the body

gathers information or data, by way of neurons, glia and synapses. The

nervous system is composed of excitable nerve cells (neurons) and

synapses that form between the neurons and connect them to centers

throughout the body or to other neurons. These neurons operate on

excitation or inhibition, and although nerve cells can vary in size and

location, their communication with one another determines their

function. These nerves conduct impulses from sensory receptors to the

brain and spinal cord. The data is then processed by way of integration

of data, which occurs only in the brain. After the brain has processed

the information, impulses are then conducted from the brain and spinal

cord to muscles and glands, which is called motor output. Glia cells are

found within tissues and are not excitable but help with myelination,

ionic regulation and extracellular fluid.

The nervous system is comprised of two major parts, or subdivisions,

the central nervous system (CNS) and the peripheral nervous system

(PNS). The CNS includes the brain and spinal cord. The brain is the

body's "control center". The CNS has various centers located within it

that carry out the sensory, motor and integration of data. These centers can be subdivided to Lower Centers

(including the spinal cord and brain stem) and Higher centers communicating with the brain via effectors. The PNS

is a vast network of spinal and cranial nerves that are linked to the brain and the spinal cord. It contains sensory

receptors which help in processing changes in the internal and external environment. This information is sent to the

CNS via afferent sensory nerves. The PNS is then subdivided into the autonomic nervous system and the somatic

nervous system. The autonomic has involuntary control of internal organs, blood vessels, smooth and cardiac

muscles. The somatic has voluntary control of skin, bones, joints, and skeletal muscle. The two systems function

together, by way of nerves from the PNS entering and becoming part of the CNS, and vice versa.

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General functions of the CNS

Brain, brain stem, and spinal chord.


The "Central Nervous System", comprised of brain, brainstem, and

spinal cord.

The central nervous system (CNS) represents the largest part of the

nervous system, including the brain and the spinal cord. Together, with

the peripheral nervous system (PNS), it has a fundamental role in the

control of behavior.

The CNS is conceived as a system devoted to information processing,

where an appropriate motor output is computed as a response to a

sensory input. Many threads of research suggest that motor activity

exists well before the maturation of the sensory systems, and senses

only influence behavior without dictating it. This has brought the

conception of the CNS as an autonomous system.

Structure and function of neurons


Neurons are highly specialized for the processing and transmission of

cellular signals. Given the diversity of functions performed by neurons in different parts of the nervous system, there

is, as expected, a wide variety in the shape, size, and electrochemical properties of neurons. For instance, the soma of

a neuron can vary in size from 4 to 100 micrometers in diameter.

The soma (cell body) is the central part of the neuron. It contains the nucleus of the cell, and therefore is where most

protein synthesis occurs. The nucleus ranges from 3 to 18 micrometers in diameter. The dendrites of a neuron are

cellular extensions with many branches, and metaphorically this overall shape and structure is referred to as a

dendritic tree. This is where the majority of input to the neuron occurs. However, information outflow (i.e. from

dendrites to other neurons) can also occur (except in chemical synapse in which backflow of impulse is inhibited by

the fact that axon do not possess chemoreceptors and dendrites cannot secrete neurotransmitter chemical). This

explains one way conduction of nerve impulse. The axon is a finer, cable-like projection which can extend tens,

hundreds, or even tens of thousands of times the diameter of the soma in length. The axon carries nerve signals away

from the soma (and also carry some types of information back to it). Many neurons have only one axon, but this

axon may - and usually will - undergo extensive branching, enabling communication with many target cells. The part

of the axon where it emerges from the soma is called the 'axon hillock'. Besides being an anatomical structure, the

axon hillock is also the part of the neuron that has the greatest density of voltage-dependent sodium channels. This

makes it the most easily-excited part of the neuron and the spike initiation zone for the axon: in neurological terms it

has the greatest hyperpolarized action potential threshold. While the axon and axon hillock are generally involved in

information outflow, this region can also receive input from other neurons as well. The axon terminal is a specialized

structure at the end of the axon that is used to release neurotransmitter chemicals and communicate with target

neurons. Although the canonical view of the neuron attributes dedicated functions to its various anatomical

components, dendrites and axons often act in ways contrary to their so-called main function.

Axons and dendrites in the central nervous system are typically only about a micrometer thick, while some in the 

peripheral nervous system are much thicker. The soma is usually about 10

25 micrometers in diameter and often is 

not much larger than the cell nucleus it contains. The longest axon of a human motor neuron can be over a meter 

long, reaching from the base of the spine to the toes. Sensory neurons have axons that run from the toes to the dorsal 

columns, over 1.5 meters in adults. Giraffes have single axons several meters in length running along the entire

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length of their necks. Much of what is known about axonal function comes from studying the squids giant axon, an

ideal experimental preparation because of its relatively immense size (0.5

1 millimeters thick, several centimeters



Sensory afferent neurons convey information from tissues and organs into the central nervous system. Efferent

neurons transmit signals from the central nervous system to the effector cells and are sometimes called motor

neurons. Interneurons connect neurons within specific regions of the central nervous system. Afferent and efferent

can also refer generally to neurons which, respectively, bring information to or send information from brain region.

Classification by action on other neurons

Excitatory neurons excite their target postsynaptic neurons or target cells causing it to function. Motor neurons and

somatic neurons are all excitatory neurons. Excitatory neurons in the brain are often glutamatergic. Spinal motor

neurons, which synapse on muscle cells, use acetylcholine as their neurotransmitter. Inhibitory neurons inhibit their

target neurons. Inhibitory neurons are also known as short axon neurons, interneurons or microneurons. The output

of some brain structures (neostriatum, globus pallidus, cerebellum) are inhibitory. The primary inhibitory

neurotransmitters are GABA and glycine. Modulatory neurons evoke more complex effects termed

neuromodulation. These neurons use such neurotransmitters as dopamine, acetylcholine, serotonin and others. Each

synapses can receive both excitatory and inhibitory signals and the outcome is determined by the adding up of


Excitatory and inhibitory process

Nerve Synapse

The release of a excitatory neurotransmitter

(ACHe) at the synapses will cause an inflow

of positively charged sodium ions (Na+)

making a localized depolarization of the

membrane. The current then flows to the

resting (polarized) segment of the axon.

Inhibitory synapse causes an inflow of Cl-

(chlorine) or outflow of K+ (potassium)

making the synaptic membrane

hyperpolarized. This increase prevents

depolarization, causing a decrease in the

possibility of an axon discharge. If they are

both equal to their charges, then the

operation will cancel itself out. There are

two types of summation: spatial and temporal. Spatial summation requires several excitatory synapses (firing several

times) to add up,thus causing an axon discharge. It also occurs within inhibitory synapses, where just the opposite

will occur. In temporal summation, it causes an increase of the frequency at the same synapses until it is large

enough to cause a discharge. Spatial and temporal summation can occur at the same time as well.

The neurons of the brain release inhibitory neurotransmitters far more than excitatory neurotransmitters, which helps

explain why we are not aware of all memories and all sensory stimuli simultaneously. The majority of information

stored in the brain is inhibited most of the time.

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When excitatory synapses exceed the amount of inhibitory synapses there are, then the excitatory synapses will

prevail over the other. The same goes with inhibitory synapses, if there are more inhibitory synapses than excitatory,

the synapses will be inhibited. To determine all of this is called summation.

Classification by discharge patterns:

Neurons can be classified according to their electrophysiological characteristics (note that a single action potential is

not enough to move a large muscle, and instead will cause a twitch).

Tonic or regular spiking: 

Some neurons are typically constantly (or tonically) active. Example: interneurons in


Phasic or bursting: 

Neurons that fire in bursts are called phasic.

Fast spiking: 

Some neurons are notable for their fast firing rates. For example, some types of cortical inhibitory

interneurons, cells in globus pallidus.


Action potentials of some neurons are more narrow compared to the others. For example, interneurons

in prefrontal cortex are thin-spike neurons.

Classification by neurotransmitter released:

Some examples are cholinergic, GABAergic, glutamatergic and dopaminergic neurons.

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Central Nervous System

The central nervous system is the control center for the body. It regulates organ function, higher thought, and

movement of the body. The central nervous system consists of the brain and spinal cord.

Generation & propagation of an action potential

Electrical characteristics of a neurochemical action potential.

The Nerve Impulse

When a nerve is stimulated the resting potential changes. Examples of such stimuli are pressure, electricity,

chemicals, etc. Different neurons are sensitive to different stimuli(although most can register pain). The stimulus

causes sodium ion channels to open. The rapid change in polarity that moves along the nerve fiber is called the

"ACTION POTENTIAL." This moving change in polarity has several stages:


The upswing is caused when positively charged sodium ions(Na+) suddenly rush through open sodium gates

into a nerve cell.The membrane potential of the stimulated cell undergoes a localized change from-65

millivolts to 0 in a limited area. As additional sodium rushes in, the membrane potential actually reverses its

polarity so that the outside of the membrane is negative relative to the inside. During this change of polarity

the membrane actually develops a positive value for a moment(+40 millivolts). The change in voltage

stimulates the opening of additional sodium channels (called a voltage-gated ion channel). This is an example

of a positive feedback loop.


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(The downswing) is caused by the closing of sodium ion channels and the opening of potassium ion channels.

Release of positively charged potassium ions (K+) from the nerve cell when potassium gates open. Again,

these are opened in response to the positive voltage--they are voltage gated. This expulsion acts to restore the

localized negative membrane potential of the cell (about -65 or -70 mV is typical for nerves).

Refractory phase

is a short period of time after the depolarization stage. Shortly after the sodium gates open they close and go

into an inactive conformation. The sodium gates cannot be opened again until the membrane is repolarized to

its normal resting potential. The sodium-potassium pump returns sodium ions to the outside and potassium

ions to the inside. During the refractory phase this particular area of the nerve cell membrane cannot be

depolarized. This refractory area explains why action potentials can only move forward from the point of


Increased permeability of the sodium channel occurs when there is a deficit of calcium ions. when there is a deficit

of calcium ions (Ca+2) in the interstitial fluid the sodium channels are activated (opened) by very little increase of

the membrane potential above the normal resting level. The nerve fiber can therefore fire off action potentials

spontaneously, resulting in tetany. Could be caused by the lack of hormone from parathyroid glands. could be caused

by hyperventilation, which leads to a higher pH, which causes calcium to bind and become unavailable. Speed of

conduction. This area of depolarization/repolarization/recovery moves along a nerve fiber like a very fast wave. In

myelinated fibers, conduction is hundreds of times faster because the action potential only occurs at the nodes of

Ranvier (pictured below in 'types of neurons') by jumping from node to node. This is called "saltatory" conduction.

Damage to the myelin sheath by the disease can cause severe impairment of nerve cell function. Some poisons and

drugs interfere with nerve impulses by blocking sodium channels in nerves. See discussion on drug at the end of this



A color-coded image of the brain, showing the

main sections.

The brain is found in the cranial cavity. Within it are found the higher

nerve centers responsible for coordinating the sensory and motor

systems of the body (forebrain). The brain stem houses the lower nerve

centers (consisting of midbrain, pons, and medulla),


The medulla is the control center for respiratory, cardiovascular and

digestive functions.


The pons houses the control centers for respiration and inhibitory functions. Here it will interact with the cerebellum.


The cerebrum, or top portion of the brain, is divided by a deep crevice, called the longitudinal sulcus. The

longitudinal sulcus separates the cerebrum in to the right and left hemispheres. In the hemispheres you will find the

cerebral cortex, basal ganglia and the limbic system. The two hemispheres are connected by a bundle of nerve fibers

called the corpus callosum. The right hemisphere is responsible for the left side of the body while the opposite is true

of the left hemisphere. Each of the two hemispheres are divided into four separated lobes: the frontal in control of

specialized motor control, learning, planning and speech; parietal in control of somatic sensory functions; occipital in

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control of vision; and temporal lobes which consists of hearing centers and some speech. Located deep to the

temporal lobe of the cerebrum is the insula.


The cerebellum is the part of the brain that is located posterior to the medulla oblongata and pons. It coordinates

skeletal muscles to produce smooth, graceful motions. The cerebellum receives information from our eyes, ears,

muscles, and joints about what position our body is currently in (proprioception). It also receives output from the

cerebral cortex about where these parts should be. After processing this information, the cerebellum sends motor

impulses from the brainstem to the skeletal muscles. The main function of the cerebellum is coordination. The

cerebellum is also responsible for balance and posture. It also assists us when we are learning a new motor skill, such

as playing a sport or musical instrument. Recent research shows that apart from motor functions cerebellum also has

some emotional role.

The Limbic System and Higher Mental Functions

Image of the brain, showing the Limbic system.

The Limbic System

The Limbic System is a complex set of structures found just beneath

the cerebrum and on both sides of the thalamus. It combines higher

mental functions, and primitive emotion, into one system. It is often

referred to as the emotional nervous system. It is not only responsible

for our emotional lives, but also our higher mental functions, such as

learning and formation of memories. The Limbic system explains why

some things seem so pleasurable to us, such as eating and why some

medical conditions are caused by mental stress, such as high blood

pressure. There are two significant structures within the limbic system

and several smaller structures that are important as well. They are:

1. The Hippocampus

2. The Amygdala

3. The Thalamus

4. The Hypothalamus

5. The Fornix and Parahippocampus

6. The Cingulate Gyrus

Structures of the Limbic System


The Hippocampus is found deep in the temporal lobe, shaped like a seahorse. It consists of two horns that

curve back from the amygdala. It is situated in the brain so as to make the prefrontal area aware of our past

experiences stored in that area. The prefrontal area of the brain consults this structure to use memories to

modify our behavior. The hippocampus is responsible for memory.


The Amygdala is a little almond shaped structure, deep inside the anteroinferior region of the temporal lobe,

connects with the hippocampus, the septi nuclei, the prefrontal area and the medial dorsal nucleus of the

thalamus. These connections make it possible for the amygdala to play its important role on the mediation and

control of such activities and feelings as love, friendship, affection, and expression of mood. The amygdala is

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the center for identification of danger and is fundamental for self preservation. The amygdala is the nucleus

responsible for fear.


Lesions or stimulation of the medial, dorsal, and anterior nuclei of the thalamus are associated with changes in

emotional reactivity. However, the importance of these nuclei on the regulation of emotional behavior is not

due to the thalamus itself, but to the connections of these nuclei with other limbic system structures. The

medial dorsal nucleus makes connections with cortical zones of the prefrontal area and with the hypothalamus.

The anterior nuclei connect with the mamillary bodies and through them, via fornix, with the hippocampus and

the cingulated gyrus, thus taking part in what is known as the Papez's circuit.

Image of the brain showing the location of the



The Hypothalamus is a small part of the brain located just below

the thalamus on both sides of the third ventricle. Lesions of the

hypothalamus interfere with several vegetative functions and

some so called motivated behaviors like sexuality,

combativeness, and hunger. The hypothalamus also plays a role

in emotion. Specifically, the lateral parts seem to be involved

with pleasure and rage, while the medial part is linked to

aversion, displeasure, and a tendency to uncontrollable and loud

laughing. However, in general the hypothalamus has more to do

with the expression of emotions. When the physical symptoms

of emotion appear, the threat they pose returns, via the

hypothalamus, to the limbic centers and then the prefrontal

nuclei, increasing anxiety.

The Fornix and Parahippocampal

These small structures are important connecting pathways for the limbic system.

The Cingulate Gyrus

The Cingulate Gyrus is located in the medial side of the brain between the cingulated sulcus and the corpus

callosum. There is still much to be learned about this gyrus, but it is already known that its frontal part

coordinates smells and sights, with pleasant memories of previous emotions. The region participates in the

emotional reaction to pain and in the regulation of aggressive behavior.

Memory and Learning

Memory is defined as : The mental faculty of retaining and recalling past experiences, the act or instance of

remembering recollection. Learning takes place when we retain and utilize past memories.

Overall, the mechanisms of memory are not completely understood. Brain areas such as the hippocampus, the

amygdala, the striatum, or the mammillary bodies are thought to be involved in specific types of memory. For

example, the hippocampus is believed to be involved in spatial learning and declarative learning (learning

information such as what you're reading now), while the amygdala is thought to be involved in emotional memory.

Damage to certain areas in patients and animal models and subsequent memory deficits is a primary source of

information. However, rather than implicating a specific area, it could be that damage to adjacent areas, or to a

pathway traveling through the area is actually responsible for the observed deficit. Further, it is not sufficient to

describe memory, and its counterpart, learning, as solely dependent on specific brain regions. Learning and memory

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are attributed to changes in neuronal synapses, thought to be mediated by long-term potentiation and long-term


There are three basic types of memory:

1. Sensory Memory

2. Short Term Memory

3. Long Term Memory

Sensory Memory

The sensory memories act as a buffer for stimuli through senses. A sensory memory retains an exact copy of

what is seen or heard: 

iconic memory for visual, echoic memory for aural and haptic memory for touch.

Information is passed from sensory memory into short term memory. Some believe it lasts only 300

milliseconds, it has unlimited capacity. Selective attention determines what information moves from sensory

memory to short term memory.

Short Term Memory

Short Term Memory acts as a scratch pad for temporary recall of the information under process. For instance,

in order to understand this sentence you need to hold in your mind the beginning of the sentence as you read

the rest. Short term memory decays rapidly and also has a limited capacity. Chunking of information can lead

to an increase in the short term memory capacity, this is the reason why a hyphenated phone number is easier

to remember than a single long number. The successful formation of a chunk is known as 



often causes disturbance in short term memory retention. This accounts for the desire to complete a task held

in short term memory as soon as possible.

Within short term memory there are three basic operations:

1. Iconic memory - the ability to hold visual images

2. Acoustic memory - the ability to hold sounds. Can be held longer than iconic.

3. Working memory - an active process to keep it until it is put to use. Note that the goal is not really to move the

information from short term memory to long term memory, but merely to put it to immediate use.

The process of transferring information from short term to long term memory involves the encoding or consolidation

of information. This is not a function of time, that is, the longer the memory stays in the short term the more likely it

is to be placed in the long term memory. On organizing complex information in short term before it can be encoded

into the long term memory, in this process the meaningfulness or emotional content of an item may play a greater

role in its retention in the long term memory. The limbic system sets up local reverberating circuits such as the

Papez's Circuit.

Long Term Memory

Long Term Memory is used for storage of information over a long time. Information from short to long term

memory is transferred after a short period. Unlike short term memory, long term memory has little decay.

Long term potential is an enhanced response at the synapse within the hippocampus. It is essential to memory

storage. The limbic system isn't directly involved in long term memory necessarily but it selects them from

short term memory, consolidates these memories by playing them like a continuous tape, and involves the

hippocampus and amygdala.

There are two types of long term memory:

1. Episodic Memory

2. Semantic Memory

Episodic memory represents our memory of events and experiences in a serial form. It is from this memory that we

can reconstruct the actual events that took place at a given point in our lives. Semantic memory, on the other hand, is

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a structured record of facts, concepts, and skills that we have acquired. The information in the semantic memory is

derived from our own episode memory, such as that we can learn new facts or concepts from experiences.

There are three main activities that are related to long term memory:

1. Storage

2. Deletion

3. Retrieval

Information for short term memory is stored in long term memory by rehearsal. The repeated exposure to a stimulus

or the rehearsal of a piece of information transfers it into long term memory. Experiments also suggest that learning

is most effective if it is distributed over time. Deletion is mainly caused by decay and interference. Emotional factors

also affect long term memory. However, it is debatable whether we actually ever forget anything or whether it just

sometimes becomes increasingly difficult to retrieve it. Information may not be recalled sometimes but may be

recognized, or may be recalled only with prompting. This leads us to the third operation of memory, information


There are two types of information retrieval:

1. Recall

2. Recognition

In recall, the information is reproduced from memory. In recognition the presentation of the information provides the

knowledge that the information has been seen before. Recognition is of lesser complexity, as the information is

provided as a cue. However, the recall may be assisted by the provision of retrieval cues which enable the subject to

quickly access the information in memory.

Long-term Potentiation

. Long-term potentiation (LTP) is the lasting enhancement of connections between two neurons that results from

stimulating them simutaneously. Since neurons communicate via chemical synapses, and because memories are

believed to be stored within these synapses, LTP and it's opposing process, long-term depression, are widely

considered the major cellular mechanisms that underlie learning and memory. This has been proven by lab

experiments. When one of the chemicals involved (PKMzeta, it will be discussed later) is inhibited in rats, it causes

retrograde amnesia with short term memory left intact (meaning they can't recall events from before the inhibitor was


By enhancing synaptic transmission, LTP improves the ability of two neuron, one presynaptic and the other

postsynaptic, to communicate with one another across a synapse. The precise mechanism for this enhancement isn't

known, but it varies based on things like brain region, age and species. This will focus on LTP in the CA1 section of

the hippocampus, because that's what is well known.

The end result of LTP is a well established neural circuit that can be called upon later for memory.

LTP in the CA1 hippocampus is called NMDA receptor-dependent LTP. It has four main properties.

• Rapid induction

LTP can be rapidly induced by applying one or more brief, high-frequency, stimulus to a presynaptic cell.

• Input specificity

Once induced, LTP at one synapse does not spread to other synapses; rather LTP is input specific. LTP is only

propagated to those synapses according to the rules of associativity and cooperativity.

• Associativity

Associativity refers to the observation that when weak stimulation of a single pathway is insufficient for the

induction of LTP, simultaneous strong stimulation of another pathway will induce LTP at both pathways.

• Cooperativity

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LTP can be induced either by strong tetanic stimulation of a single pathway to a synapse, or cooperatively via

the weaker stimulation of many. When one pathway into a synapse is stimulated weakly, it produces

insufficient postsynaptic depolarization to induce LTP. In contrast, when weak stimuli are applied to many

pathways that converge on a single patch of postsynaptic membrane, the individual postsynaptic

depolarizations generated may collectively depolarize the postsynaptic cell enough to induce LTP

cooperatively. Synaptic tagging, discussed later, may be a common mechanism underlying associativity and


LTP is generally divided into three parts that occur sequentially: Short-term potentiation, early LTP (E-LTP) and late

LTP (L-LTP). Short-term potentiation isn't well understood and will not be discussed.

E-LTP and L-LTP phases of LTP are each characterized by a series of three events: induction, maintenance and

expression. Induction happens when a short-lived signal triggers that phase to begin. Maintenance corresponds to the

persistent biochemical changes that occur in response to the induction of that phase. Expression entails the

long-lasting cellular changes that result from activation of the maintenance signal.

Each phase of LTP has a set of mediator molecules that dictate the events of that phase. These molecules include

protein receptors, enzymes, and signaling molecules that allow progression from one phase to the next. In addition to

mediators, there are modulator molecules that interact with mediators to fine tune the LTP. Modulators are a bit

beyond the scope of this introductory book, and won't be discussed here.

Early Phase


E-LTP induction begins when the calcium inside the postsynaptic cell exceeds a threshold. In many types of LTP,

the flow of calcium into the cell requires the NMDA receptor, which is why these types of LTP are considered

NMDA receptor-dependent.

When a stimulus is applied to the presynaptic neuron, it releases a neurotransmitter, typically glutamate, onto the

postsynaptic cell membrane where it binds to AMPA receptors, or AMPARs. This causes an influx of sodium ions

into the postsynaptic cell, this short lived depolarization is called the excitatory postsynaptic potential (EPSP) and

makes it easier for the neuron to fire an action potential.

A single stimulus doesn't cause a big enough depolarization to trigger an E-LTP, instead it relies on EPSP

summation. If EPSPs are reaching the cell before the others decay, they will add up. When the depolarization reaches

a critical level, NMDA receptors lose the magnesium molecule they were originally plugged with and let calcium in.

The rapid rise in calcium within the postsynaptic neuron trigger the short lasting activation of several enzymes that

mediate E-LTP induction. Of particular importance are some protein kinase enzymes, including CaMKII and PKC.

To a lesser extent, PKA and MAPK activation also contribute.


During the maintenance stage of E-LTP, CaMKII and PKC lose their dependence on calcium and become

autonomously active. They then carry out phosphorylation that underlies E-LTP expression.


CaMKII and PKC phosphorylate existing AMPA receptors to increase their activity, and mediate the insertion of

additional AMPA receptors onto the postsynaptic cell membrane. This is achieved by having a pool of nonsynaptic

AMPA receptors adjacent to the postsynaptic membrane. When the appropriate stimulus arrives, the nonsynaptic

AMPA receptors are brought into the postsynaptic membrane under the influence of protein kinases.

AMPA receptors are one of the most common type of receptors in the brain. Their effect is excitatory. By adding

more AMPA receptors, and increasing their activity, future stimuli will generate larger postsynaptic responses.

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Late Phase

Late LTP is the natural extension of E-LTP. L-LTP requires gene transcription and protein synthesis in the

postsynaptic cell, unlike E-LTP. Late LTP is also associated with the presynaptic synthesis of synaptotagmin and an

increase in synaptic vesicle number, suggesting that L-LTP induces protein synthesis not only in postsynaptic cells,

but in presynaptic cells as well. This is discussed under "retrograde messenger" below.


Late LTP is induced by changes in gene expression and protein synthesis brought about by persistent activation of

protein kinases activated during E-LTP, such as MAPK. In fact, MAPK--Specifically the ERK subfamily of

MAPKs--may be the molecular link between E-LTP and L-LTP, since many signaling cascades involved in E-LTP,

including CaMKII and PKC, can converge on ERK.


Upon activation, ERK may phosphorylate a number of cytoplasmic and nuclear molecules that ultimately result in

the protein synthesis and morphological changes associated with L-LTP. These chemicals may include transcription

factors such as CREB. ERK-mediated changes in transcription factor activity may trigger the synthesis of proteins

that underlie the maintenance of L-LTP. PKMzeta is one such molecule. When this molecule is inhibited in rats, they

experience retrograde amnesia (where you can't recall previous events but short term memory works fine).


Aside from PKMzeta, many of the proteins synthesized during L-LTP are unknown. They are though to increase

postsynaptic dendritic spine number, surface area and sensitivity to the neurotransmitter associated with L-LTP


Retrograde Signaling

Retrograde signaling is a hypothesis that attempts to explain that, while LTP is induced and expressed

postsynaptically, some evidence suggests that it is expressed presynaptically as well. The hypothesis gets its name

because normal synaptic transmission is directional and proceeds from the presynaptic to the postsynaptic cell. For

induction to occur postsynaptically and be partially expressed presynaptically, a message must travel from the

postsynaptic cell to the presynaptic cell in a retrograde (reverse) direction. Once there, the message presumably

initiates a cascade of events that leads to a presynaptic component of expression, such as the increased probability of

neurotransmitter vesicle release.

Retrograde signaling is currently a contentious subject as some investigators do not believe the presynaptic cell

contributes at all to the expression of LTP. Even among proponents of the hypothesis there is controversy over the

identity of the messenger.

Language and Speech

Language depends on semantic memory so some of the same areas in the brain are involved in both memory and

language. Articulation, the forming of speech, is represented bilaterally in the motor areas. However, for most

individuals, language analysis and speech formation take place in regions of the left hemisphere only. The two

regions involved are:

1. Broca's Area
2. Wernicke's Area

Broca's area is located just in front of the voice control area of the left motor cortex. This region assembles the motor

of speech and writing. For example, patients with lesions in this area:

1. Understand language perfectly

2. May be able to write perfectly

3. Seldom speak spontaneously

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Human Physiology/The Nervous System


Wernicke's area is part of the auditory and visual associations cortex. This region is responsible for the analysis and

formation of language content. For example, patients with lesions in this area:

1. Are unable to name objects

2. Are unable to understand the meaning of words

3. Articulate speech readily but usually nonsensically

Diseases of the Limbic System

There are several well known diseases that are disorders of the limbic system. Several are discussed here.


An increased dopamine (DA) response in the limbic system results in schizophrenia. DA may be synthesized or

secreted in excess, DA receptors may be supersensitive, and DA regulatory mechanism may be defective. Symptoms

are decreased by drugs which block DA receptors. Symptoms of schizophrenia are:

1. Loss of touch with reality

2. Decreased ability to think and reason

3. Decreased ability to concentrate

4. Decreased memory

5. Regress in child-like behavior

6. Altered mood and impulsive behavior

7. Auditory hallucinations

Symptoms may be so severe that the individual cannot function.


Depression is the most common major mental illness and is characterized by both emotional and physical symptoms.

Symptoms of depression are:

1. Intense sadness and despair

2. Anxiety

3. Loss of ability to concentrate

4. Pessimism

5. Feelings of low self esteem

6. Insomnia or hypersomnia

7. Increased or decreased appetite

8. Changes in body temperature and endocrine gland function

10 to 15% of depressed individuals display suicidal behavior during their lifetime.

The cause of depression and its symptoms are a mystery but we do understand that it is an illness associated with

biochemical changes in the brain. A lot of research goes on to explain that it is associated with a lack of amines

serotonin and norephinephrine. Therefore pharmacological treatment strategies often try to increase amine

concentrations in the brain.

One class of antidepressants is monoamine oxidase inhibitors. Mono amine oxidase is a enzyme that breaks down

your amines like norephinephrine and serotonin. Because the antidepressants inhibit their degradation they will

remain in the synaptic cleft for a longer period of time making the effect just as if you had increased theses types of


A newer class of antidepressants is selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI's). With SSRI's decreasing the

uptake of serotonin back into the cell that will increase the amount of serotonin present in the synaptic cleft. SSRI's

are more specific than the monoamine oxidase inhibitors because they only affect serotonergic synapses. You might

recognize these SSRI's by name as Prozac and Paxil.

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Bipolar Disorder

Another common form of depression is manic depression. Manic is an acute state characterized by:

1. Excessive elation and impaired judgment

2. Insomnia and irritability

3. Hyperactivity

4. Uncontrolled speech

Manic depression, also known as bipolar disorder, displays mood swings between manic and depression. The limbic

system receptors are unregulated. Drugs used are unique mood stabilizers.

The hippocampus is particularly vulnerable to several disease processes, including ischemia, which is any

obstruction of blood flow or oxygen deprivation, Alzheimer

s disease, and epilepsy. These diseases selectively attack

CA1, which effectively cuts through the hippocampal circuit.

An Autism Link

A connection between autism and the limbic system has also been noted as well. URL: http:/












Case Study

Central Pain Syndrome

I was 42 years old when my life changed forever. I had a stroke. As an avid viewer of medical programs on

television I assumed that I would have physical therapy for my paralyzed left side and get on with my life. No one

ever mentioned pain or the possibility of pain, as a result of the stroke. I did experience unusual sensitivity to touch

while still in the hospital, but nothing to prepare me for what was to come.

The part of my brain that is damaged is the Thalamus. This turns out to be the pain center and what I have now is an

out of control Thalamus, resulting in Thalamic Pain syndrome, also called Central Pain Syndrome. This means that

24 hours a day, seven days a week, my brain sends messages of pain and it never goes away. I am under the care of

physicians, who not only understand chronic pain, but are also willing to treat it with whatever medications offer

some help. None of the medications, not even narcotic medications, take the pain away. They just allow me to

manage it so I can function.

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