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In vertebrate species it consists of two main parts, the central nervous system (CNS) and the peripheral nervous system (PNS). The PNS consists mainly of nerves, which are enclosed bundles of the long fibers or axons, that connect the CNS to every other part of the body.

Nerves that transmit signals from the brain are called motor or efferent nerves, while those nerves that transmit information from the body to the CNS are called sensory or afferent.

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Recent findings indicate that glial cells, such as microglia and astrocytes, serve as important resident immune cells within the central nervous system.

The vertebrate nervous system can also be divided into areas called grey matter ("gray matter" in American spelling) and white matter.

It controls the mouthparts, the salivary glands and certain muscles.

Many arthropods have well-developed sensory organs, including compound eyes for vision and antennae for olfaction and pheromone sensation.

Most nerves serve both functions and are called mixed nerves.

The PNS is divided into a) somatic and b) autonomic nervous system, and c) the enteric nervous system. The autonomic nervous system is further subdivided into the sympathetic and the parasympathetic nervous systems.

There is an anatomical convention that a cluster of neurons in the brain or spinal cord is called a nucleus, whereas a cluster of neurons in the periphery is called a ganglion.

There are, however, a few exceptions to this rule, notably including the part of the forebrain called the basal ganglia Arthropods, such as insects and crustaceans, have a nervous system made up of a series of ganglia, connected by a ventral nerve cord made up of two parallel connectives running along the length of the belly.

Among the most important functions of glial cells are to support neurons and hold them in place; to supply nutrients to neurons; to insulate neurons electrically; to destroy pathogens and remove dead neurons; and to provide guidance cues directing the axons of neurons to their targets.

A very important type of glial cell (oligodendrocytes in the central nervous system, and Schwann cells in the peripheral nervous system) generates layers of a fatty substance called myelin that wraps around axons and provides electrical insulation which allows them to transmit action potentials much more rapidly and efficiently.

The nervous system is the part of an animal's body that coordinates its actions and transmits signals to and from different parts of its body.