The tissues and organs in the bodies of multicellular organisms do not work independently of each other. They work together performing their many tasks as the needs of the whole body. This means that these activities are coordinated. Coordination also enables the organism to respond to happenings in the world around it.
One familiar example of coordination is the way in which muscles work together during movement. When a boy runs to catch a ball, he uses hundreds of muscles to move his arms, legs and back. His nervous system uses information from his sense organs and coordinates these muscles. Due to this coordination, the muscles contract in the correct sequence, power and length of time. But that is not all. Such activities involve many other kinds of coordination. For example breathing and heartbeat rates are increased blood pressure is adjusted, and extra heat is removed fast from the body.
How does it happen? Life activities are controlled and coordinated i.e. body works as one unit, in which its different organs and systems cooperate and work in harmony with each other.

When we are writing something, our hands and fingers work in collaboration with our muscles, eyes, thoughts etc. and then very intricate movements result.

Types Of Coordination:

There are two types of coordination in organisms:

  1.  Nervous coordination brought about by nervous system and
  2. Chemical coordination brought about by endocrine system.
    Animals have both the nervous and chemical coordination systems in their bodies while plants and
    other organisms have only chemical coordination.

Coordinated Action:

A coordinated action has five components;

i- Stimuli:

What happens when we touch a snail? We might have seen the flowers of sunflower plant moving towards the sun. What could be the reason for all this? Touch, light etc. are factors that can bring about certain responses in living organisms. These factors are called stimuli. We can define a stimulus as any change in environment (external and internal), which can provoke a response in organism. More examples of stimuli are heat, cold, pressure, sound waves, presence of chemicals, microbial infections etc.

ii- Receptors:

Stimuli are detected by special organs, tissues or cells of body. For example sound waves are detected by ears, light is detected by eyes, chemicals in air are detected by nose and so on. The organs, tissues or cells which are specifically built to detect particular type of stimuli are called receptors


iii- Coordinators:

These are the organs that receive information from receptors and send messages to particular organs for proper action. In nervous coordination, brain and spinal cord are coordinators. They receive information and send messages through neurons in the form of nerve impulses. On the other hand, in chemical coordination, various endocrine glands play the role of coordinators. They receive information in the form of various chemicals and send messages by secreting particular hormones in blood.

iv- Effectors:

These are the parts of body which receive messages from coordinators and produce particular
responses. In nervous coordination, neurons carry messages from coordinators (brain and
spinal cord) to muscles and glands, which act as effectors. In chemical coordination, particular
hormones carry messages from coordinators (endocrine glands) to particular target tissues,
which act as effectors. For some hormones, nephrons act as effectors. Similarly, bones and liver
act as effectors for many hormones.

v- Response

On receiving the message from coordinators, the effector performs action. This action is called response. For example, pulling our hand away from something very hot and the movement of the flower of sunflower towards light are responses. Usually, nervous coordination produces immediate but short-living responses while chemical coordination produces slow but long-living responses.

Human Nervous System:

We have understood the basic model of the working of nervous system. The nervous system in man and in other higher animals is composed of two major components i.e. central nervous system and peripheral nervous system.

Central nervous system comprises of coordinators i.e. brain and spinal cord while peripheral nervous system consists of nerves that arise from central nervous system and spread in different parts of body. All these components are made of neurons. Now we will first examine the structure and types of neuron and then we will go to the divisions of nervous system.

Nerve cell or Neuron:

Nerve cell or neuron is the unit of the nervous system. The human nervous system consists of billions of neurons plus supporting (neuroglial) cells. Neurons are specialized cells that are able to conduct nerve impulses from receptors to coordinators and from coordinators to effectors. In this way they communicate with each other and with other types of body cells. The nucleus and most of the cytoplasm of a neuron is located in its cell body. Different processes extend out from cell body. These are called dendrites and axons. Dendrites conduct impulses toward cell body and axons conduct impulses away from cell body.

Schwann cells are special neuroglial cells located at regular intervals along axons. In some neurons, Schwann cells secrete a fatty layer called myelin sheath, over axons. Between the areas of myelin on an axon, there are nonmyelinated points, called the nodes of Ranvier. Myelin sheath is an insulator so the membrane coated with this sheath does not conduct nerve impulse. In such impulses are called saltatory (‘jumping’) impulses. This increases the speed of nerve impulse.

On the basis of their functions, neurons are of three types;

1. Sensory neurons conduct sensory information (nerve impulse) from receptors towards the CNS. Sensory neurons
have one dendrite and one axon.
2. Interneurons form brain and spinal cord. They receive information, interpret them and stimulate motor neurons.
They have many dendrites and axons.
3. Motor neurons carry information from interneurons to muscle or glands (effectors). They have many dendrites but only one axon.


A nerve means the union of several axons that are enveloped by a covering made of lipid. Based on the property of axons, the nerves are classified into three types.

  1. Sensory nerves contain the axons of sensory neurons only.
  2. Motor nerves contain the axons of motor neurons only.
  3.  Mixed nerves contain the axons of both i.e sensory and motor neurons.

Divisions of the Nervous System:

The details of the central and peripheral nervous systems are given below.

Central nervous system:

The central nervous system consists of brain and spinal cord.

A- Brain

In animals, all life activities are under the control of brain. The structure of brain is suitable to perform this function. Brain is situated inside a bony cranium (part of skull). Inside cranium, brain is covered by three layers called meninges. Meninges protect brain and also provide nutrients and oxygen to brain tissue through their capillaries.
The brain contains fluid-filled ventricles that are continuous with the central canal of spinal cord. Fluid within ventricles and central canal is called cerebrospinal fluid (CSF).

The Divisions of Brain

There are three major regions in the brain of human and other vertebrates. These are forebrain, midbrain and hindbrain. Important parts of each of these regions are described below:


Forebrain is the largest area of brain. It is most highly developed in humans. Following are the important
parts of this region.

  1. Thalamus lies just below cerebrum. It serves as a relay centre between various parts of brain and spinal cord. It also receives and modifies sensory impulses (except from nose) before they travel to cerebrum. Thalamus is also involved in pain perception and consciousness (sleep and awakening).
  2. Hypothalamus lies above midbrain and just below thalamus. In humans, it is roughly the size of an almond. One of the most important functions of hypothalamus is to link nervous system and endocrine system. It controls the secretions of pituitary gland. It also controls feelings such as rage, pain, pleasure and sorrow.
  3. Cerebrum is the largest part of forebrain. It controls skeletal muscles, thinking, intelligence and emotions. It is divided into two cerebral hemispheres. The anterior parts of cerebral hemispheres are called olfactory bulbs which receive impulses from olfactory nerves and create the sensation of smell. The upper layer of cerebral hemispheres i.e. cerebral cortex consists of grey matter. The grey matter of nervous system consists of cell bodies and non-myelinated axons. Beneath this layer is present the white matter. The white matter of nervous system consists of myelinated axons. Cerebral cortex has a large surface area and is folded in order to fit in skull. It is divided into four lobes.

Midbrain lies between hindbrain and forebrain and connects the two. It receives sensory information and sends it to the appropriate part of forebrain. Midbrain also controls some auditory reflexes and posture.


Hindbrain consists of three major parts.

  1. Medulla oblongata lies on the top of spinal cord. It controls breathing, heart rate and blood pressure. It also controls many reflexes such as vomiting, coughing, sneezing etc. Information that passes between spinal cord and the rest of brain pass through medulla.
  2. Cerebellum is behind medulla. It coordinates muscle movements.
  3. Pons is present on top of medulla. It assists medulla in controlling breathing. It also serves as a connection between cerebellum and spinal cord.
B- Spinal Cord:

The spinal cord is in fact a tubular bundle of nerves. It starts from brain stem and extends to lower back. Like brain, spinal cord is also covered by meninges. The vertebral column surrounds and protects spinal cord.

The outer region of spinal cord is made of white matter (containing myelinated axons). The central
region is butterfly shaped that surrounds the central canal. It is made of grey matter (containing neuron cell bodies).

31 pairs of spinal nerves arise along spinal cord. These are “mixed” nerves because each contains axons of both sensory and motor neurons.

At the point where a spinal nerve arises from spinal cord, there are two roots of spinal nerve.
Both roots unite and form one mixed spinal nerve.

  • The dorsal root contains sensory axons and a ganglion where cell bodies are located.
  •  The ventral root contains axons of motor neurons.

Spinal cord performs two main functions:

  1.  It serves as a link between body parts and brain. Spinal cord transmits nerve impulses from body parts to brain and from brain to body parts.
  2. Spinal cord also acts as a coordinator, responsible for some simple reflexes

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