The overall organization of the peripheral autonomic nervous system has been known for many decades, but the mechanisms by which it is controlled by the central nervous system are just now coming to light. In particular, two major issues have seen considerable progress in the past decade. First, the pathways that provide visceral sensation to conscious perception at a cortical level have been elucidated in both animals and humans. The nociceptive system runs in parallel to the pathways carrying visceral sensation from the cranial nerves and may be considered in itself a component of visceral sensation. Second, structures in the central nervous system that generate patterns of autonomic response have been identified. These pattern generators are located at multiple levels of the central nervous system, and they can be combined in temporal and spatial patterns to subserve a wide range of behavioral needs.