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Neural control is the process used by the nervous system to control everything from movement to physiological processes. The body is a series of complex interconnected systems which work together to sustain life on a variety of ways, and neural control is the underpinning of these systems. Disorders of neural control are a topic of interest for some researchers and medical professionals who want to help people who have experienced damage to the brain or nervous system.
Highly specialized cells known as neurons or nerve cells are a key part of the neural system. Each cell has the capability to send signals along its length to communicate with other cells. There are several different types of neurons found in various parts of the body which are capable of sending different kinds of signals. Depending on the activity being controlled, signals are sent from various regions of the brain along a chain of neurons to accomplish the desired goal. Signals can also be sent back to the brain, providing feedback which allows the brain to respond to changing situations.
Movements, both voluntary and involuntary, are controlled with neurons. Neural control of movement regulates everything from the pumping of the heart to raising a hand in a classroom. When people develop disorders which interfere with this, they may lose control over their movements, experience involuntary jerks and twitches, or even have difficulty with tasks which are supposed to be automatic, such as subtle adjustments to the muscles which allow people to stand comfortably.
Neurons act as sensors to provide information to the brain which may be relevant to the brain's activities. For example, when someone runs, the brain receives information that more oxygen is needed, and increases breath rate to ensure that the runner gets enough oxygen. When someone is injured, pain signals are sent to the brain so that it knows to respond to the injury, while a cascading series of automatic responses to injury are activated in individual cells around the site.
As researchers study the brain, they learn more about neural control, along with developing potential treatments for disorders which inhibit the function of the brain and nervous system. For example, researchers have learned that deep brain stimulation may be beneficial in the treatment of some degenerative brain diseases, and that the brain can be re-trained after an event such as a stroke to learn to do things again.
I think this topic is so interesting. In my undergraduate psychology class, I was always fascinated to read about how the brain controls so much of our natural movements and processes. Are there any career paths for people who want to work in this area, but don't have a post-bac degree?
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