The Brain and Nervous System

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If you think of the brain as a central computer that controls all the functions of your body, then the nervous system is like a network that relays messages back and forth from it to different parts of the body. It does this via the spinal cord, which runs from the brain down through the back and contains threadlike nerves that branch out to every organ and body part. When a message comes into the brain from anywhere in the body, the brain tells the body how to react. For example, if you accidentally touch a hot stove, the nerves in your skin shoot a message of pain to your brain. The brain then sends a message back telling the muscles in your hand to pull away. Luckily, this neurological relay race takes a lot less time than it just took to read about it! Considering everything it does, the human brain is incredibly compact, weighing just 3 pounds. Its many folds and grooves, though, provide it with the additional surface area necessary for storing all of the body's important information. The spinal cord, on the other hand, is a long bundle of nerve tissue about 18 inches long and 3/4 inch thick. It extends from the lower part of the brain down through spine. Along the way, various nerves branch out to the entire body. These are called the peripheral nervous system. Both the brain and the spinal cord are protected by bone: the brain by the bones of the skull, and the spinal cord by a set of ring-shaped bones called vertebrae. They're both cushioned by layers of membranes called meninges as well as a special fluid called cerebrospinal fluid. This fluid helps protect the nerve tissue, keep it healthy, and remove waste products.
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