spinal cord


spinal cord

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Section of a spinal cord. The anterior horn of the gray matter contains cell bodies from which the …—© Merriam-Webster Inc.

In vertebrates, the body's major nerve tract. In humans it is about 18 in. (45 cm) long, running from the base of the brain through the vertebral column. It is covered by the meninges and cushioned by cerebrospinal fluid. It connects the peripheral nervous system (outside the brain and spinal cord) to the brain. The spinal cord and the brain constitute the central nervous system. Sensory impulses reach the brain via the spinal cord, and impulses from the brain travel down the spinal cord to motor neurons, which reach the body's muscles and glands via the peripheral nerves. The peripheral nerves are connected to the spinal cord via the spinal nerves. In humans there are 31 pairs of spinal nerves containing both sensory and motor fibres, which originate in the spinal cord and pass out between the vertebrae. These nerves branch and relay motor impulses to all parts of the body. Injury to the spinal cord may result in loss of communication between the brain and outlying parts and cause paralysis, loss of sensation, or weakness in the parts of the body served by areas below the injured region. Because nerve cells and fibres are unable to regenerate themselves, the effects are usually permanent.

This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise.
For the full entry on spinal cord, visit Britannica.com.

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