About the Neuromuscular System
Nerves, Muscles, and Synapse
The peripheral nervous system is made up of several components that allow the body to move and sense the environment. Neuromuscular disease occurs when there is a problem in any one of these components: our nerves, muscles, or the gap between—the neuromuscular junction.
Nerves are like cables that transmit electrical impulses to and from the body to the central nervous system (CNS) which includes our brain and spinal cord.
- Motor nerves supply information from the CNS to the muscles which allow for movement.
- Sensory nerves supply information from the skin and joints to the CNS which allow for sensation and balance.
- Autonomic nerves innervate the heart, blood vessels, and sweat glands which allow the brain to control heart rate, blood pressure, and temperature.
Nerve cells consist of the following parts:
- Cell body/Neuron: This structure houses the nerve’s DNA which is necessary for the production of important proteins that keep the nerve healthy and alive. Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, is an example of a disorder of the motor neurons.
- Axon: The axon is a long structure that projects from the neuron and carries electrical signals to and from the intended targets such as muscles and skin. The axon may be covered by a protective coating called myelin which acts like insulation over an electrical wire that helps improve transmission of electrical signals. Peripheral neuropathy is an example of a disorder that affects axons and myelin.
- Terminal branches: At the end of the nerve are the terminal branches. They are responsible for transmitting signals from the nerve to the muscle or from the sensory organs to the nerve.
Our muscular systems facilitate movement. Skeletal muscle is attached to bones and helps the limbs and body parts move. It is made up of individual muscle cells. The muscle contracts when it receives a chemical signal released from the terminal nerve branch of a motor nerve. Muscle diseases can be caused by genetic or acquired disorders.
The neuromuscular junction is a highly specialized gap between the motor nerve terminal and the muscle. As an electrical impulse travels down the motor nerve, a chemical neurotransmitter called acetylcholine travels across the gap to the muscle causing it to contract. Myasthenia gravis is an example of a disorder that affects the neuromuscular junction.
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