The spinal cord serves three principal functions:
- Conduction. The spinal cord contains bundles of nerve fibers that conduct information up and down the cord, connecting different levels of the trunk with each other and with the brain. This enables sensory information to reach the brain, motor commands to reach the effectors, and input received at one level of the cord to affect output from another level.
- Locomotion. Walking involves repetitive, coordinated contractions of several muscle groups in the limbs. Motor neurons in the brain initiate walking and determine its speed, distance, and direction, but the simple repetitive muscle contractions that put one foot in front of another, over and over, are coordinated by groups of neurons called central pattern generators in the cord. These neuronal circuits produce the sequence of outputs to the extensor and flexor muscles that cause alternating movements of the legs.
- Reflexes. Reflexes are involuntary stereotyped responses to stimuli. They involve the brain, spinal cord, and peripheral nerves.
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