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|Nerve: Afferent Nerve Fiber|
|Nerve: Afferent Nerve Fiber|
In the nervous system, afferent neurons (otherwise known as sensory, receptor neurons, and afferent axons), carry nerve impulses from receptors or sense organs towards the central nervous system. This term can also be used to describe relative connections between structures. Afferent neurons communicate with specialized interneurons. The opposite activity of direction or flow is efferent.
In the nervous system there is a "closed loop" system of sensation, decision, and reactions. This process is carried out through the activity of afferent neurons, interneurons, and efferent neurons.
A touch or painful stimulus, for example, creates a sensation in the brain only after information about the stimulus travels there via afferent nerve pathways. Afferent neurons are pseudounipolar neurons, that have a single long dendrite and a short axon, and a smooth and rounded cell body. The dendrite is structurally and functionally similar to an axon, and is myelinated; it is these axon-like dendrites that make up the afferent nerves. Just outside the spinal cord, thousands of afferent neuronal cell bodies are aggregated in a swelling in the dorsal root known as the dorsal root ganglion.
Afferent neurons Somas are located in the peripheral nervous system and the axons of these cells travel from ganglion to ganglion and lead back to the spinal cord. The majority of these are unipolar neurons in that they have a single axon leaving the cell body and is sent towards the sensory organ. All of the axons in the dorsal root, which contains afferent nerve fibers, are used in the transduction of somatosensory information. Somatosensory receptors include senses such as pain, touch, temperature, itch, and stretch. For example, a specific muscle fiber called an intrafusal muscle fiber is a type of afferent neuron that lies parallel to the extrafusal muscle fibers thus functions as a stretch receptor by detecting muscle length. All of these sensations travel along the same general pathway towards the brain, from the dorsal root ganglion they travel to the spinal cord. From the spinal cord to the medulla, which then leads to the medial lemniscus of the midbrain. From here it travels to the primary somatosensory cortex of the parietal lobe.
Afferent is derived from Latin participle afferentem (af- = ad- : to + ferre : bear, carry), meaning carrying into. Ad and ex give an easy mnemonic device for remembering the relationship between afferent and efferent : afferent connection arrives and an efferent connection exits.
Another mnemonic device used for remembering afferent and efferent (in terms of the spinal cord, with its dorsal/ventral organization) is SAME DAVE. Sensory Afferent Motor Efferent, Dorsal Afferent Ventral Efferent.
Afferent and efferent are connected to affect and effect through their common Latin roots: afferent nerves affect the subject while efferent nerves allow the subject to effect change.