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Anatomy of Peripheral Nerves


The nervous system is the part of an animal's body that coordinates its voluntary and involuntary actions and transmits signals to and from different parts of its body. In vertebrate species it consists of two main parts, the central nervous system (CNS) and the peripheral nervous system (PNS). The CNS contains the brain and spinal cord. The PNS consists mainly of nerves, which are enclosed bundles of the long fibers or axons, that connect the CNS to every other part of the body. Nerves that transmit signals from the brain are called motor or efferent nerves, while those nerves that transmit information from the body to the CNS are called sensory or afferent. Most nerves serve both functions and are called mixed nerves. The Peripheral Nervous System (PNS) is divided into a) somatic and b) autonomic nervous system, and c) the enteric nervous system. Somatic nerves control voluntary movement. The autonomic nervous system is further subdivided into the sympathetic and the parasympathetic nervous systems. The sympathetic nervous system is activated in cases of emergencies to mobilize energy, while the parasympathetic nervous system is activated when organisms are in a relaxed state. The enteric nervous system functions to control the gastrointestinal system. Both autonomic and enteric nervous systems function involuntarily. Nerves that exit from the cranium are called cranial nerves while those exiting from the spinal cord are called spinal nerves.


The peripheral nervous system (PNS) is the part of the nervous system that consists of the nerves and ganglia on the outside of the brain and spinal cord. The main function of the PNS is to connect the central nervous system (CNS) to the limbs and organs, essentially serving as a communication relay going back and forth between the brain and the extremities. Unlike the CNS, the PNS is not protected by the bone of spine and skull, or by the blood–brain barrier, which leaves it exposed to toxins and mechanical injuries. The XII cranial nerves are part of the PNS with the exception of cranial nerve II, the optic nerve, along with the retina which is now considered part of the CNS by most anatomy textbooks. 


Peripheral nerves consist of fascicles that contain myelinated and unmyelinated axons. Endoneurium is the small amount of matrix that is present between individual axons. The perineurium is a sheath of special, fiber-like cells that ties the axons of each fascicle together. Epineurium is the connective tissue that surrounds the entire nerve trunk and gives off vascular connective tissue septa that traverse the nerve and separate fascicles from one another.