Glossary: The Autonomic Nervous System

acetylcholine (ACh): neurotransmitter that binds at a motor end-plate to trigger depolarization

adrenal medulla: interior portion of the adrenal (or suprarenal) gland that releases epinephrine and norepinephrine into the bloodstream as hormones

adrenergic: synapse where norepinephrine is released, which binds to α- or β-adrenergic receptors

afferent branch: component of a reflex arc that represents the input from a sensory neuron, for either a special or general sense

agonist: any exogenous substance that binds to a receptor and produces a similar effect to the endogenous ligand

alpha (α)-adrenergic receptor: one of the receptors to which epinephrine and norepinephrine bind, which comes in three subtypes: α1, α2, and α3

antagonist: any exogenous substance that binds to a receptor and produces an opposing effect to the endogenous ligand

anticholinergic drugs: drugs that interrupt or reduce the function of the parasympathetic system

autonomic tone: tendency of an organ system to be governed by one division of the autonomic nervous system over the other, such as heart rate being lowered by parasympathetic input at rest

baroreceptor: mechanoreceptor that senses the stretch of blood vessels to indicate changes in blood pressure

beta (β)-adrenergic receptor: one of the receptors to which epinephrine and norepinephrine bind, which comes in two subtypes: β1 and β2

cardiac accelerator nerves: preganglionic sympathetic fibers that cause the heart rate to increase when the cardiovascular center in the medulla initiates a signal

cardiovascular center: region in the medulla that controls the cardiovascular system through cardiac accelerator nerves and vasomotor nerves, which are components of the sympathetic division of the autonomic nervous system

celiac ganglion: one of the collateral ganglia of the sympathetic system that projects to the digestive system

central neuron: specifically referring to the cell body of a neuron in the autonomic system that is located in the central nervous system, specifically the lateral horn of the spinal cord or a brain stem nucleus

cholinergic: synapse at which acetylcholine is released and binds to the nicotinic or muscarinic receptor

chromaffin cells: neuroendocrine cells of the adrenal medulla that release epinephrine and norepinephrine into the bloodstream as part of sympathetic system activity

ciliary ganglion: one of the terminal ganglia of the parasympathetic system, located in the posterior orbit, axons from which project to the iris

collateral ganglia: ganglia outside of the sympathetic chain that are targets of sympathetic preganglionic fibers, which are the celiac, inferior mesenteric, and superior mesenteric ganglia

craniosacral system: alternate name for the parasympathetic division of the autonomic nervous system that is based on the anatomical location of central neurons in brain-stem nuclei and the lateral horn of the sacral spinal cord; also referred to as craniosacral outflow

dorsal longitudinal fasciculus: major output pathway of the hypothalamus that descends through the gray matter of the brain stem and into the spinal cord

dorsal nucleus of the vagus nerve: location of parasympathetic neurons that project through the vagus nerve to terminal ganglia in the thoracic and abdominal cavities

Eddinger–Westphal nucleus: location of parasympathetic neurons that project to the ciliary ganglion

efferent branch: component of a reflex arc that represents the output, with the target being an effector, such as muscle or glandular tissue

endogenous chemical: substance produced and released within the body to interact with a receptor protein

endogenous: describes substance made in the human body

epinephrine: signaling molecule released from the adrenal medulla into the bloodstream as part of the sympathetic response

exogenous chemical: substance from a source outside the body, whether it be another organism such as a plant or from the synthetic processes of a laboratory, that binds to a transmembrane receptor protein

exogenous: describes substance made outside of the human body

fight-or-flight response: set of responses induced by sympathetic activity that lead to either fleeing a threat or standing up to it, which in the modern world is often associated with anxious feelings

G protein–coupled receptor: membrane protein complex that consists of a receptor protein that binds to a signaling molecule—a G protein—that is activated by that binding and in turn activates an effector protein (enzyme) that creates a second-messenger molecule in the cytoplasm of the target cell

ganglionic neuron: specifically refers to the cell body of a neuron in the autonomic system that is located in a ganglion

gray rami communicantes: (singular = ramus communicans) unmyelinated structures that provide a short connection from a sympathetic chain ganglion to the spinal nerve that contains the postganglionic sympathetic fiber

greater splanchnic nerve: nerve that contains fibers of the central sympathetic neurons that do not synapse in the chain ganglia but project onto the celiac ganglion

inferior mesenteric ganglion: one of the collateral ganglia of the sympathetic system that projects to the digestive system

intramural ganglia: terminal ganglia of the parasympathetic system that are found within the walls of the target effector

lesser splanchnic nerve: nerve that contains fibers of the central sympathetic neurons that do not synapse in the chain ganglia but project onto the inferior mesenteric ganglion

ligand-gated cation channel: ion channel, such as the nicotinic receptor, that is specific to positively charged ions and opens when a molecule such as a neurotransmitter binds to it

limbic lobe: structures arranged around the edges of the cerebrum that are involved in memory and emotion

long reflex: reflex arc that includes the central nervous system

medial forebrain bundle: fiber pathway that extends anteriorly into the basal forebrain, passes through the hypothalamus, and extends into the brain stem and spinal cord

mesenteric plexus: nervous tissue within the wall of the digestive tract that contains neurons that are the targets of autonomic preganglionic fibers and that project to the smooth muscle and glandular tissues in the digestive organ

muscarinic receptor: type of acetylcholine receptor protein that is characterized by also binding to muscarine and is a metabotropic receptor

mydriasis: dilation of the pupil; typically the result of disease, trauma, or drugs

nicotinic receptor: type of acetylcholine receptor protein that is characterized by also binding to nicotine and is an ionotropic receptor

norepinephrine: signaling molecule released as a neurotransmitter by most postganglionic sympathetic fibers as part of the sympathetic response, or as a hormone into the bloodstream from the adrenal medulla

nucleus ambiguus: brain-stem nucleus that contains neurons that project through the vagus nerve to terminal ganglia in the thoracic cavity; specifically associated with the heart

parasympathetic division: division of the autonomic nervous system responsible for restful and digestive functions

parasympathomimetic drugs: drugs that enhance or mimic the function of the parasympathetic system

paravertebral ganglia: autonomic ganglia superior to the sympathetic chain ganglia

postganglionic fiber: axon from a ganglionic neuron in the autonomic nervous system that projects to and synapses with the target effector; sometimes referred to as a postganglionic neuron

preganglionic fiber: axon from a central neuron in the autonomic nervous system that projects to and synapses with a ganglionic neuron; sometimes referred to as a preganglionic neuron

prevertebral ganglia: autonomic ganglia that are anterior to the vertebral column and functionally related to the sympathetic chain ganglia

referred pain: the conscious perception of visceral sensation projected to a different region of the body, such as the left shoulder and arm pain as a sign for a heart attack

reflex arc: circuit of a reflex that involves a sensory input and motor output, or an afferent branch and an efferent branch, and an integrating center to connect the two branches

rest and digest: set of functions associated with the parasympathetic system that lead to restful actions and digestion

short reflex: reflex arc that does not include any components of the central nervous system

somatic reflex: reflex involving skeletal muscle as the effector, under the control of the somatic nervous system

superior cervical ganglion: one of the paravertebral ganglia of the sympathetic system that projects to the head

superior mesenteric ganglion: one of the collateral ganglia of the sympathetic system that projects to the digestive system

sympathetic chain ganglia: series of ganglia adjacent to the vertebral column that receive input from central sympathetic neurons

sympathetic division: division of the autonomic nervous system associated with the fight-or-flight response

sympatholytic drug: drug that interrupts, or “lyses,” the function of the sympathetic system

sympathomimetic drug: drug that enhances or mimics the function of the sympathetic system

target effector: organ, tissue, or gland that will respond to the control of an autonomic or somatic or endocrine signal

terminal ganglia: ganglia of the parasympathetic division of the autonomic system, which are located near or within the target effector, the latter also known as intramural ganglia

thoracolumbar system: alternate name for the sympathetic division of the autonomic nervous system that is based on the anatomical location of central neurons in the lateral horn of the thoracic and upper lumbar spinal cord

varicosity: structure of some autonomic connections that is not a typical synaptic end bulb, but a string of swellings along the length of a fiber that makes a network of connections with the target effector

vasomotor nerves: preganglionic sympathetic fibers that cause the constriction of blood vessels in response to signals from the cardiovascular center

visceral reflex: reflex involving an internal organ as the effector, under the control of the autonomic nervous system

white rami communicantes: (singular = ramus communicans) myelinated structures that provide a short connection from a sympathetic chain ganglion to the spinal nerve that contains the preganglionic sympathetic fiber

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