The sympathetic nerves are different from skeletal motor nerves in the following way: Each sympathetic pathway from the cord to the stimulated tissue is composed
Sympathetic nervous system. The black dashed lines represent postganglionic fibers in the gray rami leading from the sympathetic chains into spinal nerves for distribution to blood vessels, sweat glands, and piloerector muscles.
of two neurons, a preganglionic neuron and a postganglionic neuron, in contrast to only a single neuron in the skeletal motor pathway. The cell body of each pregan-glionic neuron lies in the intermediolateral horn of the spinal cord; its fiber passes, as shown in Figure 60-2, through an anterior root of the cord into the corresponding spinal nerve.
Immediately after the spinal nerve leaves the spinal canal, the preganglionic sympathetic fibers leave the spinal nerve and pass through a white ramus into one of the ganglia of the sympathetic chain. Then the course of the fibers can be one of the following three: (1) It can synapse with postganglionic sympathetic neurons in the ganglion that it enters; (2) it can pass upward or downward in the chain and synapse in one of the other ganglia of the chain; or (3) it can pass for variable distances through the chain and then through one of the sympathetic nerves radiating outward from the chain, finally synapsing in a peripheral sympathetic ganglion.
The postganglionic sympathetic neuron thus originates either in one of the sympathetic chain ganglia or in one of the peripheral sympathetic ganglia. From either of these two sources, the postganglionic fibers then travel to their destinations in the various organs.
Nerve connections between the spinal cord, spinal nerves, sympathetic chain, and peripheral sympathetic nerves.
Sympathetic Nerve Fibers in the Skeletal Nerves. Some of the postganglionic fibers pass back from the sympathetic chain into the spinal nerves through gray rami at all levels of the cord, as shown in Figure 60-2. These sympathetic fibers are all very small type C fibers, and they extend to all parts of the body by way of the skeletal nerves. They control the blood vessels, sweat glands, and piloerector muscles of the hairs. About 8 per cent of the fibers in the average skeletal nerve are sympathetic fibers, a fact that indicates their great importance.
Segmental Distribution of the Sympathetic Nerve Fibers. The sympathetic pathways that originate in the different segments of the spinal cord are not necessarily distributed to the same part of the body as the somatic spinal nerve fibers from the same segments. Instead, the sympathetic fibers from cord segment T-1 generally pass up the sympathetic chain to terminate in the head; from T-2 to terminate in the neck; from T-3, T-4, T-5, and T-6 into the thorax; from T-7, T-8, T-9, T-10, and T-11 into the abdomen; and from T-12, L-1, and L-2 into the legs. This distribution is only approximate and overlaps greatly.
The distribution of sympathetic nerves to each organ is determined partly by the locus in the embryo from which the organ originated. For instance, the heart receives many sympathetic nerve fibers from the neck portion of the sympathetic chain because the heart originated in the neck of the embryo before translocating into the thorax. Likewise, the abdominal organs receive most of their sympathetic innervation from the lower thoracic spinal cord segments because most of the primitive gut originated in this area.
Special Nature of the Sympathetic Nerve Endings in the Adrenal Medullae. Preganglionic sympathetic nerve fibers pass, without synapsing, all the way from the intermedio-lateral horn cells of the spinal cord, through the sympathetic chains, then through the splanchnic nerves, and finally into the two adrenal medullae. There they end directly on modified neuronal cells that secrete epinephrine and norepinephrine into the blood stream. These secretory cells embryologically are derived from nervous tissue and are actually themselves postganglionic neurons; indeed, they even have rudimentary nerve fibers, and it is the endings of these fibers that secrete the adrenal hormones epinephrine and norepinephrine.
Was this article helpful?
This ebook provides an introductory explanation of the workings of the human body, with an effort to draw connections between the body systems and explain their interdependencies. A framework for the book is homeostasis and how the body maintains balance within each system. This is intended as a first introduction to physiology for a college-level course.