Autonomic Nervous System

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The human vegetative nervous system. The diagram shows a selection of target organs and the antagonistic mode of action of the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems.

The vegetative nervous system ( VNS ), also called the visceral nervous system ( VNS , Latin viscus , "entrails"), autonomous nervous system ( ANS ) or vegetative (English: autonomic nervous system, ANS) , together with the somatic nervous system , forms the entire peripheral system and central nervous system .

"Autonomy" refers to the fact that the VNS adjusts and regulates biologically fixed, automatically running internal processes that can therefore deliberately not be influenced directly by humans, but at most indirectly. The term "autonomous nervous system" was coined by the British physiologist John Newport Langley (1852-1925).

The somatic or animal nervous system, on the other hand, enables an arbitrary and conscious mode of reaction. Some organs of central importance, such as the lungs (breathing, language), are controlled by both systems. In both systems, one part lies in the central nervous system (CNS), i.e. in the brain and spinal cord, and the other part lies outside of it and therefore belongs to the peripheral nervous system.


The vital functions ( vital functions ) such as heartbeat , breathing , digestion and metabolism are controlled and controlled via the vegetative nervous system in order to maintain the internal balance ( homeostasis ) . Other organs or organ systems are also innervated by the autonomic nervous system, for example the sexual organs , endocrine glands ( hormones ), exocrine glands (such as sweat glands ), the blood vessel system (blood pressure) or the internal eye muscles (pupillary reaction).

The autonomic nervous system is subdivided according to functional and anatomical aspects into

Division of labor

The sympathetic and parasympathetic components work in complementary fashion (partly antagonistic , partly synergistic ). The sympathetic nervous system gives mainly performance-enhancing ( ergotropic ) signals and the parasympathetic nervous system mainly relaxation-promoting ( trophotropic ) signals.


The brainstem and the nuclei ( nuclei ) of the hypothalamus containing the main control circuits for all components of the sympathetic and the parasympathetic system.

The work of most areas of the autonomic nervous system cannot normally be directly consciously ( willingly ) influenced. Body functions regulated by the VNS, such as pulse rate, blood pressure or muscle tone, are indirectly influenced by voluntary and involuntary activities. Physical activity, but also inactivity, e.g. B. Holding, slowing down or accelerating the breath influences the vegetatively regulated functions.

An even more indirect possibility of influencing is through consciously designed ideas of physical activity or inactivity, including their emotional aspects. Known vegetatively effective methods are, for. B. Zazen , Yoga , Taijiquan , Biofeedback , Autogenic Training and Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). Further possibilities of influencing the autonomic nervous system are hypnotic and other mental techniques that are not tied to conscious experience.

Conversely, the vegetative nervous system in turn influences conscious experience, for example particularly strongly in the areas of nutrition and sexuality. In the area of nutrition, the addresses nutrition psychology with these contexts.


Individual evidence

  1. ^ Neil A. Campbell , Jane B. Reece : Biology. Spektrum-Verlag Heidelberg-Berlin 2003, ISBN 3-8274-1352-4
  2. Hermann Triepel , Robert Herrlinger : The anatomical names. Your derivation and pronunciation. 26th edition. JF Bergmann, Munich 1962, pp. 30 and 79.