Technical Background: How our nervous system works

We tend to think of our nervous system as a singular entity, however, much like an ensemble cast, it involves several actors that work together to make a successful production! The brain and spinal cord form the central nervous system whereas nerves connecting our face, head, nose, ears and muscles to the brain and nerves emanating from the spinal cord to the rest of the body form the peripheral nervous system.  

The brain has grey and white matter. Grey matter is the collective term for cell bodies and dendrites whereas white matter mainly consists of myelinated axons. Surrounding the back and bottom of the brain is the cerebellum which controls movement and deep within the brain is the striatum which is a cluster of neurons that also contributes to movement and the reward system, which is key in developing addictive behavior. In addition to neurons, there are other supporting cells that help in brain function.

These supporting cells include:

  • Astrocytes: Star-shaped cells that can provide nutrition to neurons, prevent neuronal death and control neurogenesis.
  • Oligodendrocytes: These cells form myelin – a lipid rich insulating sheath that forms around axons and helps in efficient neuronal conduction in the central nervous system. The same function is performed by Schwann cells in the peripheral nervous system.
  • Microglia: Considered to be the immune cells of the central nervous system, their main function is to fight infections.

Sensory receptors in our skin can detect changes in touch, temperature, pain and send a signal to our brain to the somatosensory cortex, a specialized region of the brain to process these sensory inputs. There is a “somatosensory map” whereby specific regions in the brain activate in response to peripheral stimuli experienced outside the brain.  

Our brain is divided into four different lobes: 

  • the frontal lobe which regulates short term memory, voluntary movements
  • the parietal lobe which regulates spatial activity and movement
  • the occipital lobe which is the visual center
  • the temporal lobe which is heavily involved in learning and memory formation

Symptoms seen in mTBI can result from injury to any of these brain regions.      

A variety of methods are used for diagnosing mTBI including detection of factors in blood, imaging techniques and neurocognitive testing.

About the Author

Ketan Marballi is a neuroscientist who holds a Ph.D. in Cellular and Structural Biology from the University of Texas, San Antonio. Over the last decade, his research has spanned the areas of different neurodevelopmental and psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia and alcohol abuse research. He is currently studying the molecular mechanisms of Rett syndrome, a genetic syndrome similar to autism. Ketan has guest lectured at the University of Texas at Austin, teaching epigenetics to nursing students and mentored 7 students including high school, and undergraduate and medical resident trainees for their research projects. His work has been featured in leading publications including PLoS ONE and the Journal of Molecular Medicine. He enjoys playing tennis and singing in his spare time.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *