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A teenage boy is seen at the office of a dental surgeon for extraction of an impacted wisdom tooth. He is so nervous that the dentist decides to administer a sedative to calm the boy. After intravenous administration of the sedative (promethazine), the boy relaxes and the extraction is accomplished with no complications. However, when the boy stands up from the dental chair, he turns very pale and faints. Lying on the floor, he rapidly regains consciousness, but has a rapid heart rate of 120 bpm and a blood pressure of only 110/70 mm Hg. When he sits up, his heart rate increases to 140 bpm, his pressure drops to 80/40 mm Hg, and he complains of faintness. He is helped to a couch in the reception area, where he rests for 30 minutes. At the end of this time the boy is able to sit up without symptoms and, after an additional 15 minutes, is able to stand without difficulty. What autonomic effects might promethazine have that would explain the patient's signs and symptoms? Why did his heart rate increase when his blood pressure dropped?

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The nervous system is conventionally divided into the central nervous system (CNS; the brain and spinal cord) and the peripheral nervous system (PNS; neuronal tissues outside the CNS). The motor (efferent) portion of the nervous system can be divided into two major subdivisions: autonomic and somatic. The autonomic nervous system (ANS) is largely independent (autonomous) in that its activities are not under direct conscious control. It is concerned primarily with visceral functions such as cardiac output, blood flow to various organs, and digestion, which are necessary for life. Evidence is accumulating that the ANS, especially the vagus nerve, also influences immune function and some CNS functions such as seizure discharge. The somatic subdivision is largely concerned with consciously controlled functions such as movement, respiration, and posture. Both systems have important afferent (sensory) inputs that provide information regarding the internal and external environments and modify motor output through reflex arcs of varying size and complexity.

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The nervous system has several properties in common with the endocrine system, which is the other major system for control of body function. These include high-level integration in the brain, the ability to influence processes in distant regions of the body, and extensive use of negative feedback. Both systems use chemicals for the transmission of information. In the nervous system, chemical transmission occurs between nerve cells and between nerve cells and their effector cells. Chemical transmission takes place through the release of small amounts of transmitter substances from the nerve terminals into the synaptic cleft. The transmitter crosses the cleft by diffusion and activates or inhibits the postsynaptic cell by binding to a specialized receptor molecule. In a few cases, retrograde transmission may occur from the postsynaptic cell to the presynaptic neuron terminal and modify its subsequent activity.

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By using drugs that mimic or block the actions ...

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