The central nervous system (CNS) is the processing center for the nervous system. It receives information from and sends information to the peripheral nervous system. The two main organs of the CNS are the brain and spinal cord. The brain processes and interprets sensory information sent from the spinal cord.
The central nervous system consists of the brain and spinal cord. It is referred to as “central” because it combines information from the entire body and coordinates activity across the whole organism.
- The brain plays a central role in the control of most bodily functions, including awareness, movements, sensations, thoughts, speech, and memory. Some reflex movements can occur via spinal cord pathways without the participation of brain structures.
- The spinal cord is connected to a section of the brain called the brainstem and runs through the spinal canal. Cranial nerves exit the brainstem. Nerve roots exit the spinal cord to both sides of the body. The spinal cord carries signals (messages) back and forth between the brain and the peripheral nerves.
Both the brain and spinal cord are protected by a three-layered covering of connective tissue called the meninges.The meninges are three layers or membranes that cover the brain and the spinal cord. The outermost layer is the dura mater. The middle layer is the arachnoid, and the innermost layer is the pia mater. The meninges offer protection to the brain and the spinal cord by acting as a barrier against bacteria and other microorganisms.
Within the central nervous system is a system of hollow cavities called ventricles. The network of linked cavities in the brain (cerebral ventricles) is continuous with the central canal of the spinal cord. The ventricles are filled with cerebrospinal fluid, which is produced by specialized epithelium located within the ventricles called the choroid plexus. Cerebrospinal fluid surrounds, cushions, and protects the brain and spinal cord from trauma. It also assists in the circulation of nutrients to the brain.
How does the central nervous system protect itself from injury?
The central nervous system is better protected than any other system or organ in the body. Its main line of defense is the bones of the skull and spinal column, which create a hard physical barrier to injury. A fluid-filled space below the bones, called the syrinx, provides shock absorbance.Unfortunately, this protection can be a double-edged sword. When an injury to the central nervous system occurs, the soft tissue of the brain and spinal cord swells, causing pressure because of the confined space. The swelling makes the injury worse unless it is rapidly relieved. Fractured bones can lead to further damage and the possibility of infection.
Why can’t the central nervous system repair itself after injury?
Many organs and tissues in the body can recover after injury without intervention. Unfortunately, some cells of the central nervous system are so specialized that they cannot divide and create new cells. As a result, recovery from a brain or spinal cord injury is much more difficult.The complexity of the central nervous system makes the formation of the right connections between brain and spinal cord cells very difficult. It is a huge challenge for scientists to recreate the central nervous system that existed before the injury.