Basics of autonomic nervous system function

Handb Clin Neurol. 2019:160:407-418. doi: 10.1016/B978-0-444-64032-1.00027-8.


The autonomic nervous system has widespread innervation to nearly every organ system in the body. In order to understand the basics of autonomic function, knowledge of the neuroanatomy of the autonomic nervous system is necessary. Frequently considered to control the "fight or flight" and "rest and digest" functions, the autonomic nervous system has an intricate network of connections to finely tune the systemic response to nearly any situation. Although traditionally considered two discrete systems (sympathetic and parasympathetic), the enteric nervous system is now considered a third component of the autonomic nervous system. This chapter reviews the background of the neuroanatomical distribution of the autonomic nervous system in order to facilitate understanding the basics of autonomic function.

Keywords: Autonomic nervous system; Autonomic neuroanatomy; Enteric nervous system; Parasympathetic nervous system; Sympathetic nervous system.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Autonomic Nervous System / physiology*
  • Autonomic Nervous System Diseases / diagnosis
  • Autonomic Nervous System Diseases / physiopathology
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Enteric Nervous System / physiology
  • Heart Rate / physiology
  • Humans
  • Spinal Cord / physiology*