The Anatomy of the Ganglia

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Ganglia is the plural of ganglion. These are clusters of nerve cell bodies found around the body. They’re part of the peripheral nervous system. They carry nerve signals to and from the central nervous system. They are divided into two broad categories, the sensory ganglia, and the autonomic ganglia. 

Basal ganglia

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Anatomy

Ganglia are clusters of neuron cell bodies. Let’s take a look at their structure and location in the body. 

Structure 

There are two types of ganglia in our bodies—sensory and motor ones. Sensory ganglia are ovoid in shape and contain oval cell bodies and with nuclei in a circular pattern. 

In the spine, motor ganglia form a long chain from the base of the skull down to the tail end of the spine. Motor ganglia contain irregularly shaped cell bodies.

Location

Sensory ganglia locations include:

One portion of these sensory ganglia connects to the peripheral nervous system. The other is connected to the central nervous system via the brain or spinal cord.

Motor ganglia are part of the autonomic nervous system or ANS. The autonomic nervous system controls involuntary movements and functions, like your breathing. Motor ganglia locations include:

  • The spinal column: These are called the paravertebral ganglia
  • Internal organs: These include prevertebral ganglia and terminal ganglia

What is the Basal Ganglia?

The basal ganglia is located in the brain. This structure important in regulating voluntary movements. Unlike the other ganglia mentioned above, it’s not part of the peripheral nervous system. Being in the brain, it’s part of the central nervous system.

In addition to playing a role in motor control, this part of the brain is also involved in other complex processes like cognition and emotion.

Function 

Here’s more about the function of ganglia in the body. Think of ganglia like the relay stations of the body's nervous system. They play an essential role in connecting the parts of the peripheral and central nervous systems. 

Motor Function 

Motor ganglia receive information from the central nervous system, playing a role in ensuring involuntary movements and functions continue. These involuntary movements include the movement of organs like the heart and lungs. Motor ganglia also send information to the central nervous system to keep things running smoothly.

Sensory Function 

Sensory ganglia send sensory information to the central nervous system. This information includes touch, smell, taste, sound, and visual stimuli. They also deliver information about body position and sensory feedback relating to organs. For example, if your stomach hurts, it’s the sensory function of the peripheral nervous system that’s doing its job. 

Associated Conditions

Conditions or injuries that may affect the basal ganglia include:

All of the following conditions are known to affect the basal ganglia in the brain and affect voluntary movement:

Unsurprisingly, conditions or injuries involving the basal ganglia are extremely serious and often lead to permanent disability or death. 

Damage to other ganglia around the body can also cause problems. For example, glaucoma is the result of vision-related ganglia damage. Similarly, an injury to the dorsal root ganglia in the spine (this might be due to spinal vertebrae compression) can cause sensory issues, like tingling in the feet.

Conditions that affect the peripheral nervous system may impact ganglia. Damage to the peripheral nervous system can happen due to:

  • Injuries
  • Infections
  • Genetic abnormalities 
  • Genetically inherited disorders
  • Tumors
  • Problems with blood flow 

Rehabilitation 

Treatment is different depending on the cause of ganglia damage. It also depends on which ganglia have been damaged. 

Some causes of basal ganglia damage, for instance, are reversible and respond well to rehab. Treatments are also available for heavy metal poisoning. Depending on the person, there may not be any lingering symptoms after treatment. 

However, in the case of Parkinson’s disease, damage to the basal ganglia is part of a progressive illness. Currently, there’s no cure for the disease. Degenerative diseases that affect ganglia in the peripheral nervous system may not be treatable.

People with severe head trauma that impacts the basal ganglia may not recover. If they do, they may end up with a permanent disability.

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