Skip to main content
Medicine LibreTexts

14.3B: Parasympathetic Responses

  • Page ID
    7731
  • The parasympathetic nervous system regulates organ and gland functions during rest and is considered a slowly activated, dampening system.

     

    LEARNING OBJECTIVES

     

    Describe the parasympathetic responses of the autonomic nervous system

     

    KEY TAKEAWAYS

    Key Points

     

    • Body functions stimulated by the parasympathetic nervous system (PSNS) include sexual arousal, salivation, lacrimation, urination, digestion, and defecation.
    • The PSNS primarily uses acetylcholine as its neurotransmitter.
    • Peptides (such as cholecystokinin) may also act on the PSNS as neurotransmitters.

     

    Key Terms

     

    • acetylcholine: An organic, polyatomic cation (often abbreviated ACh) that acts as a neurotransmitter in both the peripheral nervous system (PNS) and central nervous system (CNS) in many organisms, including humans.
    • parasympathetic nervous system: One of the divisions of the autonomic nervous system, based between the brain and the spinal cord, that slows the heart and relaxes muscles.
    • lacrimation: Shedding tears; crying.

     

    The Parasympathetic Nervous System

     

    image

    Nerve innervation of the autonomic nervous system: The parasympathetic nervous system, shown in blue, is a division of the autonomic nervous system.

    The parasympathetic nervous system (PSNS, or occasionally PNS) is one of the two main divisions of the autonomic nervous system (ANS). The autonomic nervous system (ANS, or visceral nervous system, or involuntary nervous system) is the part of the peripheral nervous system that acts as a control system, functioning largely below the level of consciousness and controlling visceral functions.

    The ANS is responsible for regulating the internal organs and glands, which occurs unconsciously. Its roles include stimulation of rest-and-digest activities that occur when the body is at rest, including sexual arousal, salivation, lacrimation (tears), urination, digestion, and defecation.

    Its action is described as being complementary to that of one of the other main branches of the ANS, the sympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for stimulating activities associated with the fight-or-flight response.

    The sympathetic and parasympathetic divisions typically function in opposition to each other. This natural opposition is better understood as complementary in nature rather than antagonistic.

    The sympathetic nervous system can be considered a quick response, mobilizing system; and the parasympathetic system is a more slowly activated, dampening system.

     

    Parasympathetic Nervous System Functions

     

    A useful acronym to summarize the functions of the parasympathetic nervous system is SLUDD (salivation, lacrimation, urination, digestion, and defecation). The parasympathetic nervous system may also be known as the parasympathetic division.

    The parasympathetic nervous system uses chiefly acetylcholine (ACh) as its neurotransmitter, although peptides (such as cholecystokinin) may act on the PSNS as neurotransmitters. The ACh acts on two types of receptors, the muscarinic and nicotinic cholinergic receptors.

    Most transmission occurs in two stages. When stimulated, the preganglionic nerve releases ACh at the ganglion, which acts on nicotinic receptors of the postganglionic neurons. The postganglionic nerve then releases ACh to stimulate the muscarinic receptors of the target organ.

    This is a drawing of of two nicotinic acetylcholine receptors, a heteromeric receptor and a homomeric receptor. These different subtypes of nicotinic acetylcholine receptors have alpha and beta subunits. The acetylcholine binding sites are indicated by ACh.

     

    Nicotinic acetylcholine receptors: Two different subtypes of nicotinic acetylcholine receptors with alpha and beta subunits are shown. The acetylcholine binding sites are indicated by ACh.