Somatic nervous system
- For the musician known as Somatic, see Hahn Rowe.
The somatic nervous system (SoNS or voluntary nervous system) is the part of the peripheral nervous system associated with the voluntary control of body movements via skeletal muscles. The SoNS consists of afferent and efferent nerves. Afferent nerves are responsible for relaying sensation to the central nervous system whilst efferent nerves are responsible for stimulating muscle contraction, including all the non-sensory neurons connected with skeletal muscles and skin.
Parts of Somatic Nervous System
There are 43 segments of nerves in our body and with each segment there is a pair of sensory and motor nerves. In the body, 31 segments of nerves are in the spinal cord and 12 are in the brain stem.
Besides these, thousands of association nerves are also present in the body.
Thus Somatic Nervous System consists of three parts:
i) Spinal Nerves: They are peripheral nerves that carry sensory information into the spinal cord and motor commands.
ii) Cranial Nerves: They are the nerve fibers that carry information into and out of the brain stem. They include smell, vision, eye, eye muscles, mouth, taste, ear, neck, shoulders, and tongue.
iii) Association Nerves: These nerves integrate sensory input and motor output numbering thousands.
Nerve signal transmission
The basic route of nerve signals within the efferent somatic nervous system involves a sequence that begins in the upper cell bodies of motor neurons (upper motor neurons) within the precentral gyrus (which approximates the primary motor cortex). Stimuli from the precentral gyrus are transmitted from upper motor neurons and down the corticospinal tract, via axons to control skeletal (voluntary) muscles. These stimuli are conveyed from upper motor neurons through the ventral horn of the spinal cord, and across synapses to be received by the sensory receptors of alpha motor neurons (large lower motor neurons) of the brainstem and spinal cord.
Upper motor neurons release a neurotransmitter, acetylcholine, from their axon terminal knobs, which are received by nicotinic receptors of the alpha motor neurons. In turn, alpha motor neurons relay the stimulus.
From there, acetylcholine is released from the axon terminal knobs of alpha motor neurons and received by postsynaptic receptors (Nicotinic acetylcholine receptors) of muscles, thereby relaying the stimulus to contract muscle fibers.
Vertebrate and invertebrate differences
In invertebrates, depending on the neurotransmitter released and the type of receptor it binds, the response in the muscle fiber could either be excitatory or inhibitory. For vertebrates, however, the response of a muscle fiber to a neurotransmitter (always acetylcholine (ACh)) can only be excitatory.
A reflex arc is a neural circuit that creates a more or less automatic link between a sensory input and a specific motor output. Reflex circuits vary in complexity—the simplest spinal reflexes are mediated by a three-element chain, beginning with sensory neurons, which activate interneurons in the spinal cord, which then activate motor neurons. Some reflex responses, such as withdrawing the hand after touching a hot surface, are protective, but others, such as the patellar reflex "knee jerk" activated by tapping the patellar tendon, contribute to ordinary behaviour.