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Spinal Cord

Check us out at The spinal cord is a long, thin, tubular bundle of nervous tissue and support cells that extends from the brain (the medulla specifically). The brain and spinal cord together make up the central nervous system. The spinal cord extends down to the space between the first and second lumbar vertebrae; it does not extend the entire length of the vertebral column. It is around 45 cm (18 in) in men and around 43 cm (17 in) long in women. The enclosing bony vertebral column protects the relatively shorter spinal cord. The spinal cord functions primarily in the transmission of neural signals between the brain and the rest of the body but also contains neural circuits that can independently control numerous reflexes and central pattern generators. The spinal cord has three major functions: A. Serve as a conduit for motor information, which travels down the spinal cord. B. Serve as a conduit for sensory information, which travels up the spinal cord. C. Serve as a center for coordinating certain reflexes. The spinal cord is the main pathway for information connecting the brain and peripheral nervous system. The length of the spinal cord is much shorter than the length of the bony spinal column. The human spinal cord extends from the medulla oblongata and continues through the conus medullaris near the first or second lumbar vertebra, terminating in a fibrous extension known as the filum terminale. It is about 45 cm (18 in) long in men and around 43 cm (17 in) in women, ovoid-shaped, and is enlarged in the cervical and lumbar regions. The cervical enlargement, located from C4 to T1, is where sensory input comes from and motor output goes to the arms. The lumbar enlargement, located between T9 and T12, handles sensory input and motor output coming from and going to the legs. You should notice that the name is somewhat misleading. However, this region of the cord does indeed have branches that extend to the lumbar region. In cross-section, the peripheral region of the cord contains neuronal white matter tracts containing sensory and motor neurons. Internal to this peripheral region is the gray, butterfly-shaped central region made up of nerve cell bodies. This central region surrounds the central canal, which is an anatomic extension of the spaces in the brain known as the ventricles and, like the ventricles, contains cerebrospinal fluid. The spinal cord has a shape that is compressed dorso-ventrally, giving it an elliptical shape. The cord has grooves in the dorsal and ventral sides. The posterior median sulcus is the groove in the dorsal side, and the anterior median fissure is the groove in the ventral side. Running down the center of the spinal cord is a cavity, called the central canal. The three meninges that cover the spinal cord—the outer dura mater, the arachnoid mater, and the innermost pia mater—are continuous with that in the brainstem and cerebral hemispheres. Similarly, cerebrospinal fluid is found in the subarachnoid space. The cord is stabilized within the dura mater by the connecting denticulate ligaments, which extend from the enveloping pia mater laterally between the dorsal and ventral roots. The dural sac ends at the vertebral level of the second sacral vertebra. The spinal cord is protected by three layers of tissue, called spinal meninges, that surround the cord. The dura mater is the outermost layer, and it forms a tough protective coating. Between the dura mater and the surrounding bone of the vertebrae is a space, called the epidural space. The epidural space is filled with adipose tissue, and it contains a network of blood vessels. The arachnoid is the middle protective layer. Its name comes from the fact that the tissue has a spiderweb-like appearance. The space between the arachnoid and the underlyng pia mater is called the subarachnoid space. The subarachnoid space contains cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). The medical procedure known as a spinal tap involves use of a needle to withdraw CSF from the subarachnoid space, usually from the lumbar region of the spine. The pia mater is the innermost protective layer. It is very delicate and it is tightly associated with the surface of the spinal cord.
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