A nerve is an enclosed, cable-like bundle of peripheral
axons (the long, slender projections of neurons). A nerve provides a common pathway for the electrochemical nerve impulses that are transmitted along each of the axons. Nerves are found only in the peripheral nervous system. In the central nervous system, the analogous structures are known as tracts. cite book | author = Purves, Dale, George J. Augustine, David Fitzpatrick, William C. Hall, Anthony-Samuel LaMantia, James O. McNamara, and Leonard E. White | title = Neuroscience. 4th ed. | publisher = Sinauer Associates | pages = 11-20 | year = 2008 | id = ISBN 978-0-87893-697-7] cite book | author = Elaine N. Marieb and Katja Hoehn | title = Human Anatomy & Physiology (7th Ed.) | publisher = Pearson | pages = 388-602 | year = 2007 | id = ISBN 0-805-35909-5]
Neurons are sometimes called "nerve cells", though this term is technically inaccurate since many neurons do not form nerves, and nerves also include non-neuronal
Schwann cellsthat coat the axons in myelin.
Nerves are categorized into three groups based on the direction that signals are conducted:
Afferent nerves" conduct signals from sensory neurons to the central nervous system, for example from the mechanoreceptorsin skin.
Efferent nerves" conduct signals from the central nervous system along motor neurons to their target muscles and glands.
*"Mixed nerves" contain both afferent and efferent axons, and thus conduct both incoming sensory information and outgoing muscle commands in the same bundle.
Nerves can also be categorized into two groups based on where they connect to the central nervous system:
Spinal nerves" innervate much of the body, and connect through the spinal columnto the spinal cord. They are given letter-number designations according to the vertebrathrough which they connect to the spinal column.
Cranial nerves" innervate parts of the head, and connect directly to the brainstem. They are typically assigned Roman numeralsfrom I to XII, although cranial nerve zerois sometimes included. In addition, cranial nerves have descriptive names.
Each nerve is covered externally by a dense sheath of
connective tissue, the epineurium. Underlying this is a layer of flat cells, the perineurium, which forms a complete sleeve around a bundle of axons. Perineurial septae extend into the nerve and subdivide it into several bundles of fibers. Surrounding each such fibre is the endoneurium. This forms an unbroken tube which extends from the surface of the spinal cord to the level at which the axon synapses with its muscle fibers, or ends in sensory receptors. The endoneurium consists of an inner sleeve of material called the glycocalyxand an outer, delicate, meshwork of collagenfibers. Nerves are bundled along with blood vessels, since the neurons of a nerve have fairly high energy requirements.
Within the endoneurium, the individual nerve fibers are surrounded by a low protein liquid called endoneurial fluid. The endoneurium has properties analogous to the
blood-brain barrier, in that it prevents certain molecules from crossing from the blood into the endoneurial fluid. In this respect, endoneurial fluid is similar to cerebro-spinal fluidin the central nervous system. During the development of nerve edemafrom nerve irritation or injury, the amount of endoneurial fluid may increase at the site of irritation. This increase in fluid can be visualized using Magnetic resonance neurography, and thus MR neurography can identify nerve irritation and/or injury.
A nerve conveys information in the form of electrochemical impulses (known as
nerve impulses or action potentials) carried by the individual neurons that make up the nerve. These impulses are extremely fast, with some myelinatedneurons conducting at speeds up to 120 m/s. The impulses travel from one neuron to another by crossing a synapse, which can be either electrical or chemical in nature.
Nerves can be categorized into two groups based on function:
Sensory nerves" conduct sensory information from their receptors to the central nervous system, where the information is then processed. Thus they are synonymous with "afferent nerves".
Motor nerves" conduct signals from the central nervous system to muscles. Thus they are synonymous with "efferent nerves".
Damage to nerves can be caused by physical injury, swelling (e.g.
carpal tunnel syndrome), autoimmune diseases (e.g. Guillain-Barré syndrome), infection ( neuritis), diabetesor failure of the blood vessels surrounding the nerve. A "pinched nerve" occurs when pressure is placed on a nerve, usually from swelling due to an injury or pregnancy. Nerve damage or pinched nerves are usually accompanied by pain, numbness, weakness, or paralysis. Patients may feel these symptoms in areas far from the actual site of damage, a phenomenon called referred pain. Referred pain occurs because when a nerve is damaged, signalling is defective from all parts of the area from which the nerve receives input, not just the site of the damage.
Neurologists usually diagnose disorders of the nerves by a
physical examination, including the testing of reflexes, walkingand other directed movements, muscleweakness, proprioception, and the sense of touch. This initial exam can be followed with tests such as nerve conduction studyand electromyography(EMG).
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