The Purposefulness of Neural Components

Every part of the nervous system has at least one function, often many more. Small parts of the CNS may play crucial roles, as in the extensive distribution and profound influence of axons from inconspicuous brain centers. The locus ceruleus ("blue spot'') on each side of the fourth ventricle contains about 12,000 large, melanin-pigmented neurons. These synthesize norepi-nephrine and release it in the cerebral cortex, cerebellum, and almost every other part of the CNS. Electrically, they are almost silent in sleep, hypoactive in wakefulness, and hyperactive in watchful or startling situations. They serve vigilance and attention to novel stimuli. They contribute, indirectly but no less crucially, to perceptual and cognitive functions. By contrast, immense structures make large but expensive contributions, as in the cognitive and motor abilities afforded us by the billions of neurons in our cerebral and cerebellar cortices.

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