Autonomic nervous system
Porges, Stephen W. Department of Human Development, University of Maryland, College Park, Maryland.
Last reviewed:June 2019
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The part of the nervous system that controls visceral (internal organ) functions of the body. The autonomic nervous system (see illustration) innervates smooth and cardiac muscles and the glands, and regulates visceral processes involuntarily, including those associated with cardiovascular activity, digestion, metabolism, and thermoregulation. The autonomic nervous system functions primarily at a subconscious level. It is traditionally partitioned into the sympathetic system and the parasympathetic system, based on the region of the brain or spinal cord in which the autonomic nerves have their origin. The sympathetic system is defined by the autonomic fibers that exit thoracic and lumbar segments of the spinal cord. The parasympathetic system is defined by the autonomic fibers that either exit the brainstem via the cranial nerves or exit the sacral segments of the spinal cord. See also: Brain; Cardiovascular system; Gland; Muscle; Muscular system; Nervous system (vertebrate); Parasympathetic nervous system; Spinal cord; Sympathetic nervous system
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