Autonomic ganglia are groups of nerve-cell bodies that dwell outside the central nervous system. They chemically process and direct nerve impulse traffic between the brain and target organs in the peripheral body. These ganglia are divided to manage sensory stimuli coming from the body to the brain and motor responses from the brain to the body.  Let's see if we can liven up this discussion a bit; autonomic ganglia are two gangs that keep the Godfather going.

The Godfather

brain illustration

Image source: Unsplash

Imagine this: The Godfather (brain) of an organized family (you) keeps his mobsters (peripheral components) in order by using a gang of enforcers (autonomic ganglia) who are divided into two groups to patrol two one-way streets. The mobsters are stationed out in the hood (body) and act as the Godfather's eyes and ears (senses), and also act as his muscle (motor responses). 

A Gang of Ganglia

Symphatetic Connections and the Ganglia

Image source: commons.wikimedia.org

Autonomic ganglia are concentrated groups of nerve-cell bodies that reside outside of the central nervous system. They are part of the autonomic nervous system and are divided into the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system responsibilities. The ganglia are further divided into afferent and efferent nerve fiber duties. They use chemicals called neurotransmitters to process and direct the nerve impulse traffic between pre- and postganglionic neurons. We will get back to the godfather and the gangs after some vocabulary is discussed.

Autonomic Nervous System

The autonomic nervous system is responsible for the unconscious or involuntary control of body functions such as breathing, heart rate, and digestion; it is responsible for both the fight or flight and the rest and digest responses. It is divided into two components.

Sympathetic Nervous System



These nerves arise around the central nervous system and travel to the ganglia. Chemical connections are made in the ganglia, and sympathetic nerve signals then travel out to nerves around major organs, glands, and other tissues. These are the fight or flight response signals.

Parasympathetic Nervous System


These nerves respond basically in an opposite manner to the sympathetic nervous system. Origin, destination and connections are essentially the same in the autonomic ganglia, and these signals are responsible for slowing the heart rate and increasing intestinal and glandular activity. These are called the rest and digest signals.

Ganglia


Ganglia (plural for ganglion) are a concentrated group of nerve-cell bodies that dwell outside the central nervous system. Nerve fibers have cell bodies; the cell bodies hang out in clusters called ganglia. They chemically process nerve impulses and distribute them in two directions - either from the body toward the brain or from the brain back out to the body. The ganglia are divided into two groups, based on their direction.

Afferent


Afferent nerve fibers conduct signals towards something. Signals from sensory nerve fibers out in the periphery of the body travel through the ganglia and to the brain to be processed into action. Think of the word affect, to influence something. For example, sensory nerves in the foot will send a message that you are being burned (by a cigarette butt, no less) to the brain; this influences the brain to respond.

Efferent


Efferent fibers conduct signals away from something. Signals from the brain are conducted out through the autonomic ganglia through motor nerve fibers to the body parts waiting for a response. Think of the word effect and what it means to have an effect on something. Your brain has processed the sensory stimulus of burning pain and has sent a message to your foot muscles to pull your foot away from the source of the pain.

What Are the Autonomic Ganglia?

These ganglia are a cluster of ganglions (nerve cell bodies) in the autonomic nervous system. The divisions of the autonomic nervous system are the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems, and they are responsible for either fight or flight or rest and digestive responses.
They are further divided into afferent and efferent nerve-cell bodies. Afferent signals come from the body and send sensory messages (burning foot) through the ganglia to the brain. The brain sends efferent messages (motor signals) through the ganglia to the body to do something (pull burning foot away from burning butt).

Functions

The autonomic ganglia are enforcers comprised of nerve cell bodies, fibers, and chemicals. They monitor, manipulate, and otherwise direct traffic. Let's use your foot as an example again.

Out in the body (the hood), your barefoot steps on a lit cigarette butt. Sensory nerves (the mobsters) send signals up a one-way sensory street until they get to members of the automatic ganglia gang. The ganglia use chemicals to process the signal make sure the mobsters are doing their job. The sensory signal goes to the brain (the Godfather).

The Godfather sends a message back via a one-way motor street to the ganglia gang. Chemicals are again used to process the signal, and the message goes on its one way out to the nerves in the body (mobsters in da hood). Those nerves (mobsters) make sure that you unconsciously and very rapidly pull your foot up off the burning cigarette butt.

Their Importance

The autonomic ganglia are important because, without them, the body would fail to respond to stimuli appropriately and in a timely manner to prevent the organism from harm. The autonomic, sympathetic, and parasympathetic nervous systems are unconscious, involuntary circuits.

Sympathetic Nervous System Jobs

Parasympathetic Nervous System Jobs

Burning Meat

Mob Action

Conclusion

The movie The Godfather is a simple story of a crime family with a Don at the head, enforcers, mobsters, and targets out in the hood. Autonomic ganglia are in no way shape or form as simple as a movie, and any viewer watching a detailed production about them would certainly need to go out for a lot of bathroom breaks, popcorn, and soda. For now, though, the Godfather analogy has either helped you to understand autonomic ganglia or at least kept you awake for this discussion.

The autonomic nervous system is responsible for the vital functions of fight or flight as well as rest and digest. These functions are moderated through the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system. Organisms with vertebrae such as humans enjoy a higher order of function because we have evolved a very complex system of sending and receiving information, as well as acting upon that information and evaluating the results of the action.

Autonomic ganglia are groups of nerve-cell bodies that dwell outside the central nervous system. They chemically process and direct nerve impulse traffic between the brain and target organs in the peripheral body. The ganglia are divided to manage sensory stimuli coming from the body to the brain and motor responses from the brain to the body. To sum it up, they are two gangs that keep the Godfather going.

Featured Image by VSRao from Pixabay

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