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14.3: Divisions of the Skeletal System - Biology

14.3: Divisions of the Skeletal System - Biology



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Skulls on Display

This somewhat macabre display can be viewed at the Slovak National Museum in Bratislava, Slovakia. The skull is part of the axial skeleton, which is one of the two major divisions of the human skeleton. The other division is the appendicular skeleton.

Axial Skeleton

The axial skeleton, shown in blue in Figure (PageIndex{2}), consists of a total of 80 bones. Besides the skull, it includes the rib cage and vertebral column. It also includes the three tiny ossicles (hammer, anvil, and stirrup) in the middle ear and the hyoid bone in the throat, to which the tongue and some other soft tissues are attached.

Skull

The skull is the part of the human skeleton that provides a bony framework for the head. It consists of 22 different bones. There are 8 bones in the cranium, which encloses the brain, and 14 bones in the face.

Cranium

The cranium, sometimes called the braincase, forms the entire upper portion of the skull. As shown in Figure (PageIndex{3}), it consists of eight bones: one frontal bone, two parietal bones, two temporal bones, one occipital bone, one sphenoid bone, and one ethmoid bone. The ethmoid bone separates the nasal cavity from the brain. The sphenoid bone is one of several bones, including the frontal bone, that helps form the eye sockets. The other bones of the cranium are large and plate-like. They cover and protect the brain. The bottom of the skull has openings for major blood vessels and nerves. A large opening, called the foramen magnum, allows the spinal cord and brain to connect.

Facial Bones

The 14 facial bones of the skull are located below the frontal bone of the cranium. They are depicted in Figure (PageIndex{4}). Large bones in the face include the upper jawbones, or maxillae (singular, maxilla), which form the middle part of the face and the bottom of the two eye sockets. The maxillae are fused together except for an opening between them for the nose. The lower edge of the maxillae contains sockets for the upper teeth. The lower jaw bone, or mandible, is also large. The top edge of the mandible contains sockets for the lower teeth. The mandible opens and closes to chew food and is controlled by strong muscles. There are two zygomatic or cheekbones and two nasal bones. The nasal region also contains seven smaller bones, as indicated in the figure.

Vertebral Column

The vertebral column, also called the spine or backbone, is the flexible column of vertebrae (singular, vertebra) that connects the trunk with the skull and encloses the spinal cord. It consists of 33 vertebrae that are divided into five regions, as shown in Figure (PageIndex{5}): the cervical, thoracic, lumbar, sacral, and coccygeal regions. From the neck down, the first 24 vertebrae (cervical, thoracic, and lumbar) are individual bones. The five sacral vertebrae are fused together, as are the four coccygeal vertebrae.

The human vertebral column reflects adaptations for upright bipedal locomotion. For example, the vertebral column is less like a rigid column than an S-shaped spring (see a profile view in the figure above). Although newborn infants have a relatively straight spine, the curves develop as the backbone starts taking on its support functions, such as keeping the trunk erect, holding up the head, and helping to anchor the limbs. The S shape of the vertebral column allows it to act as a shock absorber, absorbing much of the jarring of walking and running so the forces are not transmitted directly from the pelvis to the skull. The S shape also helps protect the spine from breaking, which would be more likely with a straight, more rigid vertebral column. In addition, the S shape helps to distribute the weight of the body, and particularly of the internal organs, so the weight load is not all at the bottom, as would occur with a straight spine.

Rib Cage

The rib cage (also called thoracic cage) is aptly named because it forms a sort of cage that holds within it the organs of the upper part of the trunk, including the heart and lungs (Figure (PageIndex{6})). The rib cage includes the 12 thoracic vertebrae and the breastbone (or sternum) as well as 12 pairs of ribs, which are attached at joints to the vertebrae. The ribs are divided into three groups, called true ribs, false ribs, and floating ribs. The top seven pairs of ribs are true ribs. They are attached by cartilage directly to the sternum. The next three pairs of ribs are false ribs. They are attached by cartilage to the ribs above them, rather than directly to the sternum. The lowest two pairs of ribs are floating ribs. They are attached by cartilage to muscles in the abdominal wall. The attachments of false and floating ribs let the lower part of the rib cage expand to accommodate the internal movements of breathing.

Appendicular Skeleton

The appendicular skeleton, shown in red in Figure (PageIndex{7}), consists of a total of 126 bones. It includes all the bones of the limbs (arms, legs, hands, and feet) as well as the bones of the shoulder (shoulder girdle) and pelvis (pelvic girdle).

Upper Limbs

Each upper limb consists of 30 bones. As shown in Figure (PageIndex{8}), there is one bone, called the humerus, in each of the upper arms, and there are two bones, called the ulna and radius, in each of the lower arms.

The remaining bones of the upper limb are shown in Figure (PageIndex{9}). Each wrist contains eight carpal bones, which are arranged in two rows of four bones each; and each hand contains five metacarpal bones. The bones in the fingers of each hand include 14 phalanges (three in each finger except the thumb, which has two phalanges). The thumb has the unique ability to move into opposition with the palm of the hand and with each of the fingers when they are slightly bent. This allows the hand to handle and manipulate objects such as tools.

Lower Limbs

Each lower limb consists of 30 bones. As shown in Figure (PageIndex{10}), there is one bone, called the femur, in each of the upper legs, and there are two bones, called the tibia and fibula, in each of the lower legs. The knee cap, or patella, is an additional leg bone at the front of each knee, which is the largest joint in the human body.

The remaining bones of the lower limbs are shown in Figure (PageIndex{11}). Each ankle contains seven tarsal bones (including the talus and calcaneus), and each foot contains five metatarsal bones. The tarsals and metatarsals form the ankle, heel, and arch of the foot. They give the foot strength while allowing flexibility. The bones in the toes of each foot consist of 14 phalanges (three in each toe except the big toe, which has two phalanges)

The pectoral girdle (also called shoulder girdle) attaches the upper limbs to the trunk of the body. Its connection with the axial skeleton is by muscles alone. This allows a considerable range of motion in the upper limbs. The shoulder girdle consists of just two pairs of bones, with one of each pair on opposite sides of the body (Figure (PageIndex{12})). There is a right and left clavicles (collarbone) and right and left scapulae (shoulder blade). The scapula is a pear-shaped flat bone that helps to form the shoulder joint. The clavicle is a long bone that serves as a strut between the shoulder blade and the sternum.

Pelvic Girdle

The pelvic girdle attaches the legs to the trunk of the body and also provides a basin to contain and support the organs of the abdomen. It is connected to the vertebral column of the axial skeleton by ligaments. The pelvic girdle consists of two halves, one half for each leg, but the halves are fused with each other in adults at a joint called the pubic symphysis. Each half of the pelvic girdle includes three bones, as shown in the figure below: the ilium (flaring upper part of the pelvic girdle), pubis (lower front), and ischium (lower back). Each of these bones helps form the acetabulum, which is a depression into which the top of the femur (thigh bone) fits. When the body is in a seated position, it rests on protrusions (called tuberosities) of the two ischial bones.

Review

  1. What bones are included in the axial skeleton?
  2. Identify the two main parts of the skull. How many bones does each part contain?
  3. Describe the vertebral column.
  4. What are the advantages of an S-shaped vertebral column?
  5. What is the rib cage, and what is its function?
  6. What bones are included in the appendicular skeleton?
  7. How many bones are found in each upper limb? What are they?
  8. Identify the bones in each of the lower limbs.
  9. What is the shoulder girdle, and why does it allow considerable upper limb mobility?
  10. Describe the pelvic girdle and the bones it contains.
  11. True or False. False ribs are made of cartilage and are not true rib bones.
  12. True or False. The jaw contains two maxillae and one mandible.
  13. Describe some of the similarities between the upper limbs and the lower limbs.
  14. Explain the advantage of having some ribs that are not attached directly to the sternum.
  15. Put the following vertebral regions in order, from the closest to the head to the farthest from the head:

    sacral; lumbar; cervical; coccygeal; thoracic

Attributions

  1. Human skulls on display by KiwiEV, CC0 via Wikimedia Commons
  2. Axial skeleton diagram by LadyofHats Mariana Ruiz Villarreal, public domain via Wikimedia Commons
  3. Cranial bones, original by Edoarado, adapted text by Was a bee, CC0 via Wikimedia Commons
  4. Facial bones, public domain via Wikimedia Commons
  5. Vertebral column by OpenStax College, CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons
  6. Thoracic cage, public domain via Wikimedia Commons
  7. Appendicular skeleton diagram by LadyofHats Mariana Ruiz Villarreal, public domain via Wikimedia Commons
  8. Arm bones by BruceBlaus, CC BY 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons
  9. Bones of the wrist and hand by LadyofHats Mariana Ruiz Villarreal, public domain via Wikimedia Commons
  10. Leg bones by Jecowa, public domain via Wikimedia Commons
  11. Foot bones by Blausen.com staff (2014). "Medical gallery of Blausen Medical 2014". WikiJournal of Medicine 1 (2). DOI:10.15347/wjm/2014.010. ISSN 2002-4436. licensed CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons
  12. Shoulder bones by LadyofHats Mariana Ruiz Villarreal, public domain via Wikimedia Commons
  13. Pelvis diagram by Je at uwo, public domain via Wikimedia Commons
  14. Text adapted from Human Biology by CK-12 licensed CC BY-NC 3.0

38.1 Types of Skeletal Systems

A skeletal system is necessary to support the body, protect internal organs, and allow for the movement of an organism. There are three different skeleton designs that fulfill these functions: hydrostatic skeleton, exoskeleton, and endoskeleton.

Hydrostatic Skeleton

A hydrostatic skeleton is a skeleton formed by a fluid-filled compartment within the body, called the coelom. The organs of the coelom are supported by the aqueous fluid, which also resists external compression. This compartment is under hydrostatic pressure because of the fluid and supports the other organs of the organism. This type of skeletal system is found in soft-bodied animals such as sea anemones, earthworms, Cnidaria, and other invertebrates (Figure 38.2).

Movement in a hydrostatic skeleton is provided by muscles that surround the coelom. The muscles in a hydrostatic skeleton contract to change the shape of the coelom the pressure of the fluid in the coelom produces movement. For example, earthworms move by waves of muscular contractions of the skeletal muscle of the body wall hydrostatic skeleton, called peristalsis, which alternately shorten and lengthen the body. Lengthening the body extends the anterior end of the organism. Most organisms have a mechanism to fix themselves in the substrate. Shortening the muscles then draws the posterior portion of the body forward. Although a hydrostatic skeleton is well-suited to invertebrate organisms such as earthworms and some aquatic organisms, it is not an efficient skeleton for terrestrial animals.

Exoskeleton

An exoskeleton is an external skeleton that consists of a hard encasement on the surface of an organism. For example, the shells of crabs and insects are exoskeletons (Figure 38.3). This skeleton type provides defence against predators, supports the body, and allows for movement through the contraction of attached muscles. As with vertebrates, muscles must cross a joint inside the exoskeleton. Shortening of the muscle changes the relationship of the two segments of the exoskeleton. Arthropods such as crabs and lobsters have exoskeletons that consist of 30–50 percent chitin, a polysaccharide derivative of glucose that is a strong but flexible material. Chitin is secreted by the epidermal cells. The exoskeleton is further strengthened by the addition of calcium carbonate in organisms such as the lobster. Because the exoskeleton is acellular, arthropods must periodically shed their exoskeletons because the exoskeleton does not grow as the organism grows.

Endoskeleton

An endoskeleton is a skeleton that consists of hard, mineralized structures located within the soft tissue of organisms. An example of a primitive endoskeletal structure is the spicules of sponges. The bones of vertebrates are composed of tissues, whereas sponges have no true tissues (Figure 38.4). Endoskeletons provide support for the body, protect internal organs, and allow for movement through contraction of muscles attached to the skeleton.

The human skeleton is an endoskeleton that consists of 206 bones in the adult. It has five main functions: providing support to the body, storing minerals and lipids, producing blood cells, protecting internal organs, and allowing for movement. The skeletal system in vertebrates is divided into the axial skeleton (which consists of the skull, vertebral column, and rib cage), and the appendicular skeleton (which consists of the shoulders, limb bones, the pectoral girdle, and the pelvic girdle).

Link to Learning

Visit the interactive body site to build a virtual skeleton: select "skeleton" and click through the activity to place each bone.

Human Axial Skeleton

The axial skeleton forms the central axis of the body and includes the bones of the skull, ossicles of the middle ear, hyoid bone of the throat, vertebral column, and the thoracic cage (ribcage) (Figure 38.5). The function of the axial skeleton is to provide support and protection for the brain, the spinal cord, and the organs in the ventral body cavity. It provides a surface for the attachment of muscles that move the head, neck, and trunk, performs respiratory movements, and stabilizes parts of the appendicular skeleton.

The Skull

The bones of the skull support the structures of the face and protect the brain. The skull consists of 22 bones, which are divided into two categories: cranial bones and facial bones. The cranial bones are eight bones that form the cranial cavity, which encloses the brain and serves as an attachment site for the muscles of the head and neck. The eight cranial bones are the frontal bone, two parietal bones, two temporal bones, occipital bone, sphenoid bone, and the ethmoid bone. Although the bones developed separately in the embryo and fetus, in the adult, they are tightly fused with connective tissue and adjoining bones do not move (Figure 38.6).

The auditory ossicles of the middle ear transmit sounds from the air as vibrations to the fluid-filled cochlea. The auditory ossicles consist of three bones each: the malleus, incus, and stapes. These are the smallest bones in the body and are unique to mammals.

Fourteen facial bones form the face, provide cavities for the sense organs (eyes, mouth, and nose), protect the entrances to the digestive and respiratory tracts, and serve as attachment points for facial muscles. The 14 facial bones are the nasal bones, the maxillary bones, zygomatic bones, palatine, vomer, lacrimal bones, the inferior nasal conchae, and the mandible. All of these bones occur in pairs except for the mandible and the vomer (Figure 38.7).

Although it is not found in the skull, the hyoid bone is considered a component of the axial skeleton. The hyoid bone lies below the mandible in the front of the neck. It acts as a movable base for the tongue and is connected to muscles of the jaw, larynx, and tongue. The mandible articulates with the base of the skull. The mandible controls the opening to the airway and gut. In animals with teeth, the mandible brings the surfaces of the teeth in contact with the maxillary teeth.

The Vertebral Column

The vertebral column , or spinal column, surrounds and protects the spinal cord, supports the head, and acts as an attachment point for the ribs and muscles of the back and neck. The adult vertebral column comprises 26 bones: the 24 vertebrae, the sacrum, and the coccyx bones. In the adult, the sacrum is typically composed of five vertebrae that fuse into one. The coccyx is typically 3–4 vertebrae that fuse into one. Around the age of 70, the sacrum and the coccyx may fuse together. We begin life with approximately 33 vertebrae, but as we grow, several vertebrae fuse together. The adult vertebrae are further divided into the 7 cervical vertebrae, 12 thoracic vertebrae, and 5 lumbar vertebrae (Figure 38.8).

Each vertebral body has a large hole in the center through which the nerves of the spinal cord pass. There is also a notch on each side through which the spinal nerves, which serve the body at that level, can exit from the spinal cord. The vertebral column is approximately 71 cm (28 inches) in adult male humans and is curved, which can be seen from a side view. The names of the spinal curves correspond to the region of the spine in which they occur. The thoracic and sacral curves are concave (curve inwards relative to the front of the body) and the cervical and lumbar curves are convex (curve outwards relative to the front of the body). The arched curvature of the vertebral column increases its strength and flexibility, allowing it to absorb shocks like a spring (Figure 38.8).

Intervertebral discs composed of fibrous cartilage lie between adjacent vertebral bodies from the second cervical vertebra to the sacrum. Each disc is part of a joint that allows for some movement of the spine and acts as a cushion to absorb shocks from movements such as walking and running. Intervertebral discs also act as ligaments to bind vertebrae together. The inner part of discs, the nucleus pulposus, hardens as people age and becomes less elastic. This loss of elasticity diminishes its ability to absorb shocks.

The Thoracic Cage

The thoracic cage , also known as the ribcage, is the skeleton of the chest, and consists of the ribs, sternum, thoracic vertebrae, and costal cartilages (Figure 38.9). The thoracic cage encloses and protects the organs of the thoracic cavity, including the heart and lungs. It also provides support for the shoulder girdles and upper limbs, and serves as the attachment point for the diaphragm, muscles of the back, chest, neck, and shoulders. Changes in the volume of the thorax enable breathing.

The sternum , or breastbone, is a long, flat bone located at the anterior of the chest. It is formed from three bones that fuse in the adult. The ribs are 12 pairs of long, curved bones that attach to the thoracic vertebrae and curve toward the front of the body, forming the ribcage. Costal cartilages connect the anterior ends of the ribs to the sternum, with the exception of rib pairs 11 and 12, which are free-floating ribs.

Human Appendicular Skeleton

The appendicular skeleton is composed of the bones of the upper limbs (which function to grasp and manipulate objects) and the lower limbs (which permit locomotion). It also includes the pectoral girdle, or shoulder girdle, that attaches the upper limbs to the body, and the pelvic girdle that attaches the lower limbs to the body (Figure 38.10).

The Pectoral Girdle

The pectoral girdle bones provide the points of attachment of the upper limbs to the axial skeleton. The human pectoral girdle consists of the clavicle (or collarbone) in the anterior, and the scapula (or shoulder blades) in the posterior (Figure 38.11).

The clavicles are S-shaped bones that position the arms on the body. The clavicles lie horizontally across the front of the thorax (chest) just above the first rib. These bones are fairly fragile and are susceptible to fractures. For example, a fall with the arms outstretched causes the force to be transmitted to the clavicles, which can break if the force is excessive. The clavicle articulates with the sternum and the scapula.

The scapulae are flat, triangular bones that are located at the back of the pectoral girdle. They support the muscles crossing the shoulder joint. A ridge, called the spine, runs across the back of the scapula and can easily be felt through the skin (Figure 38.11). The spine of the scapula is a good example of a bony protrusion that facilitates a broad area of attachment for muscles to bone.

The Upper Limb

The upper limb contains 30 bones in three regions: the arm (shoulder to elbow), the forearm (ulna and radius), and the wrist and hand (Figure 38.12).

An articulation is any place at which two bones are joined. The humerus is the largest and longest bone of the upper limb and the only bone of the arm. It articulates with the scapula at the shoulder and with the forearm at the elbow. The forearm extends from the elbow to the wrist and consists of two bones: the ulna and the radius. The radius is located along the lateral (thumb) side of the forearm and articulates with the humerus at the elbow. The ulna is located on the medial aspect (pinky-finger side) of the forearm. It is longer than the radius. The ulna articulates with the humerus at the elbow. The radius and ulna also articulate with the carpal bones and with each other, which in vertebrates enables a variable degree of rotation of the carpus with respect to the long axis of the limb. The hand includes the eight bones of the carpus (wrist), the five bones of the metacarpus (palm), and the 14 bones of the phalanges (digits). Each digit consists of three phalanges, except for the thumb, when present, which has only two.

The Pelvic Girdle

The pelvic girdle attaches to the lower limbs of the axial skeleton. Because it is responsible for bearing the weight of the body and for locomotion, the pelvic girdle is securely attached to the axial skeleton by strong ligaments. It also has deep sockets with robust ligaments to securely attach the femur to the body. The pelvic girdle is further strengthened by two large hip bones. In adults, the hip bones, or coxal bones , are formed by the fusion of three pairs of bones: the ilium, ischium, and pubis. The pelvis joins together in the anterior of the body at a joint called the pubic symphysis and with the bones of the sacrum at the posterior of the body.

The female pelvis is slightly different from the male pelvis. Over generations of evolution, females with a wider pubic angle and larger diameter pelvic canal reproduced more successfully. Therefore, their offspring also had pelvic anatomy that enabled successful childbirth (Figure 38.13).

The Lower Limb

The lower limb consists of the thigh, the leg, and the foot. The bones of the lower limb are the femur (thigh bone), patella (kneecap), tibia and fibula (bones of the leg), tarsals (bones of the ankle), and metatarsals and phalanges (bones of the foot) (Figure 38.14). The bones of the lower limbs are thicker and stronger than the bones of the upper limbs because of the need to support the entire weight of the body and the resulting forces from locomotion. In addition to evolutionary fitness, the bones of an individual will respond to forces exerted upon them.

The femur , or thighbone, is the longest, heaviest, and strongest bone in the body. The femur and pelvis form the hip joint at the proximal end. At the distal end, the femur, tibia, and patella form the knee joint. The patella , or kneecap, is a triangular bone that lies anterior to the knee joint. The patella is embedded in the tendon of the femoral extensors (quadriceps). It improves knee extension by reducing friction. The tibia , or shinbone, is a large bone of the leg that is located directly below the knee. The tibia articulates with the femur at its proximal end, with the fibula and the tarsal bones at its distal end. It is the second largest bone in the human body and is responsible for transmitting the weight of the body from the femur to the foot. The fibula , or calf bone, parallels and articulates with the tibia. It does not articulate with the femur and does not bear weight. The fibula acts as a site for muscle attachment and forms the lateral part of the ankle joint.

The tarsals are the seven bones of the ankle. The ankle transmits the weight of the body from the tibia and the fibula to the foot. The metatarsals are the five bones of the foot. The phalanges are the 14 bones of the toes. Each toe consists of three phalanges, except for the big toe that has only two (Figure 38.15). Variations exist in other species for example, the horse’s metacarpals and metatarsals are oriented vertically and do not make contact with the substrate.

Evolution Connection

Evolution of Body Design for Locomotion on Land

The transition of vertebrates onto land required a number of changes in body design, as movement on land presents a number of challenges for animals that are adapted to movement in water. The buoyancy of water provides a certain amount of lift, and a common form of movement by fish is lateral undulations of the entire body. This back and forth movement pushes the body against the water, creating forward movement. In most fish, the muscles of paired fins attach to girdles within the body, allowing for some control of locomotion. As certain fish began moving onto land, they retained their lateral undulation form of locomotion (anguilliform). However, instead of pushing against water, their fins or flippers became points of contact with the ground, around which they rotated their bodies.

The effect of gravity and the lack of buoyancy on land meant that body weight was suspended on the limbs, leading to increased strengthening and ossification of the limbs. The effect of gravity also required changes to the axial skeleton. Lateral undulations of land animal vertebral columns cause torsional strain. A firmer, more ossified vertebral column became common in terrestrial tetrapods because it reduces strain while providing the strength needed to support the body’s weight. In later tetrapods, the vertebrae began allowing for vertical motion rather than lateral flexion. Another change in the axial skeleton was the loss of a direct attachment between the pectoral girdle and the head. This reduced the jarring to the head caused by the impact of the limbs on the ground. The vertebrae of the neck also evolved to allow movement of the head independently of the body.

The appendicular skeleton of land animals is also different from aquatic animals. The shoulders attach to the pectoral girdle through muscles and connective tissue, thus reducing the jarring of the skull. Because of a lateral undulating vertebral column, in early tetrapods, the limbs were splayed out to the side and movement occurred by performing “push-ups.” The vertebrae of these animals had to move side-to-side in a similar manner to fish and reptiles. This type of motion requires large muscles to move the limbs toward the midline it was almost like walking while doing push-ups, and it is not an efficient use of energy. Later tetrapods have their limbs placed under their bodies, so that each stride requires less force to move forward. This resulted in decreased adductor muscle size and an increased range of motion of the scapulae. This also restricts movement primarily to one plane, creating forward motion rather than moving the limbs upward as well as forward. The femur and humerus were also rotated, so that the ends of the limbs and digits were pointed forward, in the direction of motion, rather than out to the side. By placement underneath the body, limbs can swing forward like a pendulum to produce a stride that is more efficient for moving over land.


Osteoporosis

Osteoporosis is an age-related disorder in which bones lose mass, weaken, and break more easily than normal bones. Bones may weaken so much that a fracture can occur with minor stress — or even spontaneously, without any stress at all. Osteoporosis is the most common cause of broken bones in the elderly, but until a bone fracture occurs, it typically causes no symptoms. The bones that break most often include those in the wrist, hip, shoulder, and spine. When the thoracic vertebrae are affected, there can be a gradual collapse of the vertebrae due to compression fractures, as shown in Figure 11.7.2. This is what causes kyphosis, as pictured above in Figure 11.7.1.

Figure 11.7.2 Compression fractures of thoracic vertebrae are relatively common in people with osteoporosis.


Control of Homeostasis

When a change occurs in an animal’s environment, an adjustment must be made. The receptor senses the change in the environment, then sends a signal to the control center (in most cases, the brain) which in turn generates a response that is signaled to an effector. The effector is a muscle (that contracts or relaxes) or a gland that secretes. Homeostatsis is maintained by negative feedback loops. Positive feedback loops actually push the organism further out of homeostasis, but may be necessary for life to occur. Homeostasis is controlled by the nervous and endocrine system of mammals.


Functions of the Cerebral Cortex

The cerebrum is the seat of many of the higher mental functions, such as memory and learning, language, and conscious perception, which are the subjects of subtests of the mental status exam. The cerebral cortex is the thin layer of gray matter on the outside of the cerebrum. It is approximately a millimeter thick in most regions and highly folded to fit within the limited space of the cranial vault. These higher functions are distributed across various regions of the cortex, and specific locations can be said to be responsible for particular functions. There is a limited set of regions, for example, that are involved in language function, and they can be subdivided on the basis of the particular part of language function that each governs.

Figure 14.3.4 – Types of Cortical Areas: The cerebral cortex can be described as containing three types of processing regions: primary, association, and integration areas. The primary cortical areas are where sensory information is initially processed, or where motor commands emerge to go to the brain stem or spinal cord. Association areas are adjacent to primary areas and further process the modality-specific input. Multimodal integration areas are found where the modality-specific regions meet they can process multiple modalities together or different modalities on the basis of similar functions, such as spatial processing in vision or somatosensation.

A number of other regions, which extend beyond these primary or association areas of the cortex, are referred to as integrative areas. These areas are found in the spaces between the domains for particular sensory or motor functions, and they integrate multisensory information, or process sensory or motor information in more complex ways. Consider, for example, the posterior parietal cortex that lies between the somatosensory cortex and visual cortex regions. This has been ascribed to the coordination of visual and motor functions, such as reaching to pick up a glass. The somatosensory function that would be part of this is the proprioceptive feedback from moving the arm and hand. The weight of the glass, based on what it contains, will influence how those movements are executed.


12.3 The Function of Nervous Tissue

Having looked at the components of nervous tissue, and the basic anatomy of the nervous system, next comes an understanding of how nervous tissue is capable of communicating within the nervous system. Before getting to the nuts and bolts of how this works, an illustration of how the components come together will be helpful. An example is summarized in Figure 12.3.1.

Figure 12.3.1 Testing the Water

Imagine you are about to take a shower in the morning before going to school. You have turned on the faucet to start the water as you prepare to get in the shower. You put your hand out into the spray of water to test the temperature. What happens next depends on how your nervous system interacts with the stimulus of the water temperature and what you do in response to that stimulus.

Found in the skin is a type of sensory receptor that is sensitive to temperature, called a thermoreceptor. When you place your hand under the shower (Figure 12.3.2), the cell membrane of the thermoreceptors changes its electrical state (voltage). The amount of change is dependent on the strength of the stimulus (in this example, how hot the water is). This is called a graded potential. If the stimulus is strong, the voltage of the cell membrane will change enough to generate an electrical signal that will travel down the axon. You have learned about this type of signaling before, with respect to the interaction of nerves and muscles at the neuromuscular junction. The voltage at which such a signal is generated is called the threshold, and the resulting electrical signal is called an action potential. In this example, the action potential travels—a process known as propagation—along the axon from the initial segment found near the receptor to the axon terminals and into the synaptic end bulbs in the central nervous system. When this signal reaches the end bulbs, it causes the release of a signaling molecule called a neurotransmitter.

Figure 12.3.2 – The Sensory Input: Receptors in the skin sense the temperature of the water.

In the central nervous system (in this case, the spinal cord), the neurotransmitter diffuses across the short distance of the synapse and binds to a receptor protein of the target neuron. When the neurotransmitter binds to the receptor, the cell membrane of the target neuron changes its electrical state and a new graded potential begins. If that graded potential is strong enough to reach threshold, the second neuron generates an action potential at its initial segment. The target of this neuron is another neuron in the thalamus of the brain, the part of the CNS that acts as a relay for sensory information. At this synapse, neurotransmitter is released and binds to its receptor. The thalamus then sends the sensory information to the cerebral cortex, the outermost layer of gray matter in the brain, where conscious perception of that water temperature begins.

Within the cerebral cortex, information is processed among many neurons, integrating the stimulus of the water temperature with other sensory stimuli, as well as with your emotional state and memories. Finally, a plan is developed about what to do, whether that is to turn the temperature up, turn the whole shower off and go back to bed, or step into the shower. To do any of these things, the cerebral cortex has to send a command out to your body to move muscles (Figure 12.3.3).

Figure 12.3.3 – The Motor Response: On the basis of the sensory input and the integration in the CNS, a motor response is formulated and executed.

A region of the cortex is specialized for sending signals down to the spinal cord for movement. The upper motor neuron starts in this region, called the precentral gyrus of the frontal cortex, and has an axon that extends all the way down the spinal cord. The upper motor neuron synapses in the spinal cord with a lower motor neuron, which directly stimulates muscle fibers to contract. In the manner described in the chapter on muscle tissue, an action potential travels along the motor neuron axon into the periphery. The lower motor neuron axon terminates on muscle fibers at the neuromuscular junction. Acetylcholine is the neurotransmitter released at this specialized synapse, and binding to receptors on the muscle cell membrane causes the muscle action potential to begin. When the lower motor neuron excites the muscle fiber, the muscle contracts. All of this occurs in a fraction of a second, but this story is the basis of how the nervous system functions.

Career Connections – Neurophysiologist

There are many pathways to becoming a neurophysiologist. One path is to become a research scientist at an academic institution. A Bachelor’s degree in science will get you started, and for neurophysiology that might be in biology, psychology, computer science, engineering, or neuroscience. But the real specialization comes in graduate school. There are many different programs out there to study the nervous system, not just neuroscience itself. Most graduate programs are doctoral, and are usually considered five-year programs, with the first two years dedicated to course work and finding a research mentor, and the last three years dedicated to finding a research topic and pursuing that with a near single-mindedness. The research will usually result in a few publications in scientific journals, which will make up the bulk of a doctoral dissertation. After graduating with a Ph.D., researchers will go on to find specialized work called a postdoctoral fellowship within established labs. In this position, a researcher starts to establish their own research career with the hopes of finding an academic position at a research university.

Other options are available if you are interested in how the nervous system works. Especially for neurophysiology, a medical degree might be more suitable so you can learn about the clinical applications of neurophysiology. An academic career is not a necessity. Biotechnology firms are eager to find motivated scientists ready to tackle the tough questions about how the nervous system works so that therapeutic chemicals can be tested on some of the most challenging disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease or Parkinson’s disease, or spinal cord injury.

Others with a medical degree and a specialization in neuroscience go on to work directly with patients, diagnosing and treating mental disorders. You can do this as a psychiatrist, a neuropsychologist, a neuroscience nurse, or a neurodiagnostic technician, among other possible career paths.

Chapter Review

Sensation starts with the activation of a sensory receptor, such as the thermoreceptor in the skin sensing the temperature of the water. The sensory receptor in the skin initiates an electrical signal that travels along a sensory axon within a nerve into the spinal cord, where it synapses with a neuron in the gray matter of the spinal cord. At the synapse the temperature information represented in that electrical signal is passed to the next neuron by a chemical signal (the neurotransmitter) that diffuses across the small gap of the synapse and initiates a new electrical signal. That signal travels through the sensory pathway to the brain, synapsing in the thalamus, and finally the cerebral cortex where conscious perception of the water temperature occurs. Following integration of that information with other cognitive processes and sensory information, the brain sends a command back down to the spinal cord to initiate a motor response by controlling a skeletal muscle. The motor pathway is composed of two cells, the upper motor neuron and the lower motor neuron. The upper motor neuron has its cell body in the cerebral cortex and synapses with the lower motor neuron in the gray matter of the spinal cord. The axon of the lower motor neuron extends into the periphery where it synapses with a skeletal muscle fiber at a neuromuscular junction.


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Overview of epidermal growth factor receptor biology and its role as a therapeutic target in human neoplasia

The ability of the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) to transform epithelial cells, the overexpression of EGFR and its ligands in several human carcinomas, and the causal association of the receptor network with accelerated tumor progression provided a rationale for targeting this signaling system with tumor-selective strategies. Two of these antireceptor approaches, both based on the known structure/function of the EGFR, will be discussed. The first strategy involved the development of humanized monoclonal antibodies against the nonconserved receptor's extracellular domain. These antibodies block ligand binding and can induce receptor downregulation. The second approach was the generation of adenosine triphosphate-mimetics that compete with adenosine triphosphate for binding to the receptor's kinase pocket and disable the ability of the EGFR to transduce intracellular signals. Early clinical studies already suggest that both of these approaches, either alone or in combination with standard anticancer therapies, alter the natural history of EGFR-expressing cancers with little toxicity to the tumor-bearing host.


Watch the video: Biology Form 4- Chapter 14. Movement and Locomotion (August 2022).