The Nervous System

Notes about the nervous system

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  • Created by: Saf
  • Created on: 19-06-11 23:34

Nervous Communication

  • Short lived- neurotransmitters removed once they finish their job
  • Localised- neurotransmitters are released directly onto cells
  • Fast- impulses are fast, allowing quick reactions

Nervous system sends info as electrical impulses using neurones...

Types of Neurone:

  • Sensory- take impulses from receptors to central nervous system (CNS)
  • Relay- transmit impulses between sensory and motor neurones
  • Motor- transmit impulses from CNA to effectors

Stimulus--> receptors-------------------> CNS----------------> Effectors--> Response

                                  Sensory neurone                  Motor Neurone

e.g friend waves> photoreceptors detect wave> CNS processes info> Muscle cells stimulated> contract so you wave back.

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Hormonal Communication

  • Long lasting- aren't broken down by neurotransmitters.
  • Widespread- transported all over body, wherever the target cells are.
  • Slow- not released directly onto cells, have to travel in the blood.


  • secrete hormones e.g. pancreas secretes insulin.
  • stimulated by change in substance conc. (e.g. hormone) or an impulse.


  • Chemical messengers which travel in the bloodstream.
  • Will only bind to specific receptors found on 'target cell' membranes.

Stimulus--> Receptor--> Hormone--> Effector--> Response

e.g. low blood glucose> Pancreas receptors> Pancreas releases glucagon> glucagon detected& glycogen converted to glucose> glucose released in blood.

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  • Receptors are specific to one kind of stimulus & they can be cells/proteins.
  • Potential difference is the difference in voltage on the outside & inside of the cell. Resting potential is the potential difference at rest.
  • A stimulus excites the receptor, allowing more ions in & out of the cell.
  • The bigger the stimulus, the bigger the generator potential, and the more likely an action potential will be produced.

Pacinian Corpuscles:

  • Mechanoreceptors- detect pressure, vibrations etc. and are found in skin
  • Contain a sensory neurone ending wrapped in layers of lamellae
  • Lamellae get squashed by pressure etc, and deform the stretch-mediated  sodium channels
  • Sodium channels open, allowing Na+ ions into cell and creating a generator potential.
  • If the generator potential reaches the threshold value, an action potential is produced.
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Receptors 2


  • Light enters through pupil, iris muscles determine how much light enters
  • Lens focuses light onto retina, where it's detected by photoreceptors (fovea is a part of retina which has the most photoreceptors).

Rod photoreceptors:

  • Many rods to one neurone therefore...
  • High sensitivity- work in dim light (many weak generator potentials combined= threshold value is easier to reach & fire an action potential)
  • Low acuity- light from 2 close objects hit 3 rods, only fire 1 action potential

Cone photoreceptors:

  • One cone joins to one neurone therefore...
  • Low sensitivity- not in dim light (takes more light to reach threshold)
  • High acuity, more detail- light hits 2 cones, & 2 action potentials are sent.
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Types of Neurone:

  • Sensory- transmits impulses from receptors to the CNS
  • Relay- transmits impulses between sensory & motor neurones
  • Motor- transmits impulses from CNS to effectors

Key Facts:

  • 'Resting state' is when the neurone is more + charged outside than inside- membrane is polarised (i.e. there's a difference in voltage)
  • Resting potential is about -70mV
  • Sodium potassium pumps move sodium (x3) out of cells but they can't diffuse back in, and potassium ions (x2) move into cells.
  • Potassium pumps move K+ ions out again via facilitated diffusion
  • Hence outside is more + charged than inside
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Neurones 2


  • Stimulus causes action potentials to excite the membrane of a neurone, and sodium channels open.
  • Sodium enters cell (membrane more permeable) so inside is less negative
  • Depolarisation- if potential difference reaches threshold value (aprox. -55mV) more sodium channels open & more sodium ions diffuse into cell. Some Na+ ions diffuse sideways, causing a wave of depolarisation.
  • Repolarisation- at potential difference of +30mV, sodium channels close & potassium channels open. K+ ions diffuse out of cell
  • Hyperpolarisation- K+ channels close too slow, so potential difference is more negative than resting potential.
  • Resting potential- sodium-potassium pump returns & maintains it (-70mV.)
  • Refractory period- membrane can't be excited again straight away, as sodium & potassium channels are closed and recovering- also ensures the action potential only moves in one direction!
  • If threshold value isn't reached, none of this would happen & no action potential would be produced!
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Neurones 3


Some neurones have a myelin sheath (myelinated neurones) which act as an electrical insulator. The myelin sheath is made from a Schwann cell.

  • In between mylin there's bare patches of membrane from the neurone axon called Nodes of ranvier.
  • Depolarisation can only take place at the Nodes of Ranvier, where Na+ ion channels are concentrated. (Ions can't get through myelin sheaths).
  • The impulse 'jumps' from node to node via saltatory conduction.
  • This is faster than in a non-myelinated neurone, as the impulse can jump over the myelin sheaths, rather than take the slower route all along the unmyelinated axon membrane.


  • speed of conduction increases as temperature increases-ions diffuse faster
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Synapses are the junctions between one neurone and another, or between a neurone and an effector cell. The gap in between is called the synaptic cleft.

  • Presynaptic neurone has a synaptic knob with vesicles containing neurotransmitters
  • Action potential reaches end of a neurone & causes neurotransmitters to be released.
  • Neurotransmitters diffuse across synaptic cleft & bind to specific receptors on the postsynaptic membrane- can only move in one direction!
  • Neurotransmitters are then removed e.g. broken down by enzymes so response eventually stops.

Exitatory Neurotransmitters:

  • Depolarise postsynaptic membrane making it fire an action potential if threshold value is reached.
  • Acetylcholine (ACh) is an exitatory neurotransmitter which binds to postsynaptic receptors causing an action potential to be fired.
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Synapses 2

Inhibitory Neurotransmitters:

  • Hyperpolarise postsynaptic membrane, stopping it from firing action potentials.

Temporal Summation:

  • 2 or more impulses sent in quick succession in the same neurone- more neurotransmitter is released therefore more chance of reaching threshold value & more chance of an action potential being fired.

Spatial Summation:

  • many neurones linked to the same neurone/cell- combines amounts of neurotransmitter, making it more likely that the threshold value is reached & an action potential is fired- but can have no effect if a few of the neurones release inhibitory neurotransmitters instead of exitatory.
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Synapses 3

Drugs & the synapse:

  • Some drugs (agonists) are the same shape as neurotransmitters and they act like neurotransmitters, i.e. they bind to receptors so more are activated.
  • Others don't activate receptors (antagonists), they just block the receptors so the neurotransmitters can't bind to the receptors & activate them.
  • Yet other drugs can inhibit the enzyme which normally breaks down the neurotransmitters, resulting in more receptors being activated for longer.
  • Certain drugs can stimulate the release of neurotransmitter from the vesicles, so more receptors are activated.
  • Other drugs can inhibit the release of neurotransmitter, so fewer receptors are activated.
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Effectors- Muscles

  • Skeletal muscle- large bundles of muscle fibres, the membrane of which is called the sarcolemma. (muscle cytoplasm= sarcoplasm)
  • T tubules stick into sarcoplasm and help to spread impulses.
  • Sarcoplasmic reticulum releases calcium ions needed for contraction.
  • Lots of mitochondria to provide energy, have many nuclei (multinucleate).
  • Muscle fibres contain microfibrils made up of proteins, for contraction.
  • Mycrofibrils contain thick myosin filaments & thin actin filaments (dark A bands are both myosin & actin filaments, lighter I bands contain just actin)
  • Ends of the sarcomere marked with Z line, middle of myosin= M line
  • H zone is the area which only contains myosin filaments

Slow twitch- contract slowly, used for keeping posture (e.g. back muscles) & endurance activities (e.g. posture, marathons). Long time without getting tired (energy released slowly- anaerobic). Many mitochondria, rich in myoglobin- store alot of O2.

Fast twitch- contract quickly, used for fast movement e.g. sprinting, blinking. release energy aerobically in short bursts, tire quickly. Few mitochondria, not much myoglobin (so can't store much O2).

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Effectors- Muscles 2

Sliding filament theory: actin & myosin filaments slide over each other:

  • Myosin have hinged globular heads & binding sites for ATP & actin.
  • Actin has binding sites for myosin heads (actin-myosin binding sites)
  • Tropomyosin & troponin found in actin. Attatched together, help to move.
  • Tropomyosin blocks binding sites in resting muscles, held by troponin.
  • Action potential depolarises sarcolemma & T tubules releasing Ca2+ ions.
  • Calcium ions bind to troponin- changes its shape. The troponin pulls away with tropomyosin, exposing the binding site & allowing the myosin head to bind to the actin filament (forming an actin-myosin cross bridge).
  • Ca2+ ions also activate ATPase- breaks down ATP to provide energy.
  • This energy moves myosin head, pulling actin filament along with it.
  • Head reattatches to another binding site, sarcomere shortens- muscle contracted
  • Cycle is repeated as long as Ca2+ ions are present & bound to troponin.
  • Exitation stops- Ca2+ ions leave the binding sites on troponin, troponin returns to original shape & blocks actin-myosin binding sites again.
  • Muscles not contracted- actin filaments slide back into their original position, lengthening the sarcomere.
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Animal Response

Control of Heart Rate:

  • SAN generates impulses which causes cardiac muscles to contract.
  • Rate is controlled unconsciously by a part of the brain called the medulla.
  • Baroreceptors detect pressure in the aorta & vena cava. Chemoreceptors detect chemical stimuli in the aorta, medulla & neck artery. Monitor O2, pH & CO2 levels.
  • either acetylcholine/noradrenaline bind to receptors in the SAN

Taxis- directional movement e.g. woodlice moving away from light

Kinesis- non directional movement e.g. turning in favourable environment


  • receptors in skin detect heat- sensory neurone- relay neurone- motor neurone- effector- hand moves away to stop it being damaged.
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Plant Response


  • Response to a directional stimulus: positive tropism=  growth towards stimulus, negative tropism= growth away from stimulus.
  • Shoots are positively phototropic and negatively geotrophic.
  • Roots are negatively phototropic and positively geotrophic.

Growth Factors:

  • Chemicals produced in shoot tips/leaf which speed up/slow plant growth
  • Auxins stimulate growth of shoots by elongation- become loose & stretchy
  • However, high concentrations of auxins inhibit growth in roots.
  • Indoleacetic Acid (IAA)- auxin produced in shoot tips, moves via diffusion & active transport over short distances, or phloem over long distances.
  • Moves to shaded parts of shoot/root in phototropism, uneven growth.
  • Moves to underside of shoots/roots in geotropism- uneven growth.
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Roisin McDonough


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A concise and accurate set of notes summing up the key information needed when studying the nervous system. Team these up with a good set of annotated diagrams and some flashcards and a quiz or two for a complete set of resources to use for revision.

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