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Autonomic vs somatic nervous system

Understand the different divisions of the brain that control our muscles. Unpack the nervous system's two key divisions: the autonomic and somatic systems. Learn how the autonomic system, managing involuntary actions, further divides into the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems. Discover the crucial role of neurotransmitters like acetylcholine and noradrenaline in these processes. By Raja Narayan. Created by Raja Narayan.

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Video transcript

We can think of the nervous system as split up into two other parts. There's going to be an autonomic nervous system branch. And as the name kind of sounds like, this is your automatic control. That's the involuntary parts that we talked about from above. Beside that, there's also going to be a control that we exert. And so that's going to be called the somatic nervous system. So that's something that we control, somatic nervous system. Underneath the autonomic classification, you can break this up into two other parts. One is called the sympathetic nervous system. And we sort of alluded to that above when we were talking about the sympathetic ganglia that were part of involuntary control. In addition, we also have a parasympathetic nervous system that sort of sits in a checks-and-balances position with the sympathetic nervous system. And that's how we break this up. The somatic nervous system is just the somatic nervous system. So it has just sort of one function, and it's trying to control voluntary muscle. So the neurotransmitter that we use here, which you may recall-- and I'll put this in parentheses-- is acetylcholine. And we abbreviate that ACh for acetylcholine. What about the neurotransmitters that are used by the sympathetic and the parasympathetic nervous system? We actually sort of know them already, at least for the sympathetic nervous system. And we can come up with it. And the way you know them is if you think about what the sympathetic nervous system does. Because I'm sure you've heard of this phrase called your fight and flight response. Fight or flight. And so that's when you're in a dire situation and your body senses, uh-oh, I may die at any second now. I need to do something to get out of here. And so you activate the sympathetic nervous system so that you can achieve fight or flight. You start pumping adrenaline through your body, and you get your heart to beat faster so you can pump more oxygen to your legs to help you run quicker and get away. So that's fight or flight. And so I mentioned adrenaline, which is an endocrine hormone that's secreted to help with this. But it also has a neurotransmitter friend that does the same thing. And so the neurotransmitter friend that I'm going to write up here, it's not adrenaline, but it's noradrenaline. Starts with an N. And another term for that is norepinephrine. I'll write it out. Norepinephrine. Or noradrenaline. And so that's the neurotransmitter that's used by the sympathetic nervous system. What about the parasympathetic nervous system? Well, oddly enough it actually uses the same one that the somatic nervous system does. And the way that you can sort of differentiate this from the sympathetic nervous system is that, while the sympathetic nervous system is for the super, hardcore, intense moments where it's fight or flight, the parasympathetic nervous system is a little more chill. This is for rest and digest. So when you're going to sleep and you're trying to relax so your heart rate can lessen and your muscles and your heart aren't contracting as quickly. Or if you just ate a big meal and you need to digest that food, the parasympathetic nervous system will tell the stomach to churn that food up so you could digest it in your intestines as you also propel it along with the smooth muscle in there. So that's achieved by acetylcholine. All right? So that's the two major divisions of the central nervous system, autonomic and somatic.