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Medicine LibreTexts

14.03: The Nervous System

The nervous system has three basic functions:

1. Sensory function - to sense changes (known as stimuli) both outside and within the body. For example the eyes sense changes in light and the ear responds to sound waves. Inside the body, stretch receptors in the stomach indicate when it is full and chemical receptors in the blood vessels monitor the acidity of the blood.
2. Integrative function - processing the information received from the sense organs. The impulses from these organs are analysed and stored as memory. The many different impulses from different sources are sorted, synchronised and co-ordinated and the appropriate response initiated. The power to integrate, remember and apply experience gives higher animals much of their superiority.
3. Motor function - The third function is the response to the stimuli that causes muscles to contract or glands to secrete.

All nervous tissue is made up of nerve cells or neurons. These transmit high-speed signals called nerve impulses. Nerve impulses can be thought of as being similar to an electric current.


  • Ruth Lawson (Otago Polytechnic; Dunedin, New Zealand)