The Abdominal and Pelvic Brain
Byron Robinson, M. D.



The function of the tractus intestinalis is sensation, rhythm (persistalsis), secretion and absorption.  It has an import and export service.

"A want of individuality is the most dangerous sign in modern civilization.".
- John Stuart Mill.

    It may aid in comprehending the structure and function of the sympathetic nerve, and in concluding the discussion in regard to its independence, to arrange in short, concise propositions a number of observations which will show that the sympathetic nerve has a large degree of independence.
    1.  The independence of the sympathetic system is impressively shown in the distinct rhythmical action of the heart for some time after being removed from the body.  This can be best demonstrated in the frog and turtle.
    2.  The peristaltic and vermicular motions of the intestines after death significantly point to the independence of the sympathetic nervous system.  The intestines of a dog will continue in peristalsis for two hours after death if the room temperature be 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
    3.  The fetus has been born at or about term without a trace of brain or cord.  This shows that nutrition, growth, secretion, absorption and circulation were conducted alone by the sympathetic-one of the strongest demonstrations of its independence.
    4.  Experiment has shown that nutrition (which means life's function) may be carried on after complete destruction of the cerebrospinal centers.
    5.  Nourishment without the cerebrospinal center would indicate that the arteries (blood-vessels) are under the control of the sympathetic system.  Goltz goes so far as to say that the tone of the arteries is maintained by local centers situated in their own immediate vicinity.
    6.  The manifestations of blushing, local congestions and eruptions would tend to show that the blood acts reflexly on the vessels, affecting the vaso-dilators or the vaso-constrictors.  The white line (followed rapidly by a red one) on stroking the skin with the finger, as in scarlet fever, indicates that the vessels possess local nerve centers of control.  The trauma produced on the vascular centers by stroking the skin first irritates the vaso-constrictors, and paleness results from constriction of the vessels.  The secondary result of the trauma on the vaso-constrictor is that they are paralyzed, and then the vaso-dilators dominate with a resulting red line.
    Bernard, in 1851, was the first to show conclusively that the sympathetics controlled the caliber of the blood-vessels.  Any one who has long practiced medicine, observing the heart and the aorta, will be able to note that the heart itself, and the aorta, have seasons of dilatation and contraction.  For example, in many spare, neurotic women it is common to note that the aorta has periodic times of powerful rhythms or beatings.  With the hand on the abdomen the inexperienced announces a growing aneurism of the abdominal aorta.  The aorta beats with such tremendous force that the patient will call the physician's attention to the phenomenon.  A few hours subsequently its rhythm will be quieted and in a normal state.  This phenomenon of the excessive abdominal aortic rhythm, or beat, is perhaps due to the excitation of the local nerve centers which control its caliber; for I could scarcely detect the excessive arterial beat in another portion of the body, as the wrist.  At such times the heart acts slightly differently from normal.  It is a little more noisy and appears as if it were dilated more than usual.  Another phenomenon in regard to nerve centers which control vascular tone (contraction and dilatation) may be observed in the heart.  By careful watching of the heart of an individual, one may note that the heart changes at times in, both its method of beat and its size.      Occasionally the heart will dilate, beat with more noise, continue so for some hours, and then subside to its natural state.  This phenomenon, as well as that of aortic dilatation and contraction, is doubtless due to the controlling sympathetic nerve centers localized in the substance or immediate vicinity of the heart and aorta.  The heart, like a blood-vessel under the controlling vascular nerve centers of the sympathetic, dilates and contracts and varies its rhythm still more within wide ranges.  I have never seen this periodic dilatation noted in any book.  Practically nothing is to be found in books concerning this peculiar periodic dilatation and vigorous beating of the abdominal aorta.
    7.  The abdominal brain (the solar plexus, the semilunar ganglion) may be viewed as a gigantic vaso-motor center for the abdominal viscera.  The dilatation and contraction of the heart and aorta, with the periodic varying of the vigor of their rhythm (without recognizable disease), may be referred to this king of vaso-motor centers - the abdominal brain.  In the progress of life's vascular phenomena the abdominal brain, as a vaso-motor center, exercises very dominant and quite independent prerogatives.
    8.  The dependence and independence of the cerebrospinal and sympathetic system of nerves may be compared to the state and federal government, or the municipal and state government.  The former run in harmony, when friction does not arise.  Yet the state lives quite a distinct individual life, quite independent from the federal government.  The life of each is dependent, however, on the other.  The internal life of each (as of the sympathetic nerve) maintains itself.
    9.  The sympathetic system alone would maintain life (sensation, peristalsis, absorption, secretion), especially in each viscus, but the cerebrospinal system coordinates the various viscera as a whole into a definite purpose or plan.  The cerebrospinal system is an executive to suggest or organize the efforts of each system, ruled by the sympathetic, to combine for a common object - the continuation of an organized subject.  The efforts of the circulatory system would be useless were they not combined with all the efforts of the digestive system, as well as those of the genito-urinary system.  The cerebrospinal system simply coordinates the various independent systems (circulatory, digestive and genito-urinary) into a unit of life.
    10.  The phenomena of vaso-neurosis of the extremities would indicate a great degree of independence of the sympathetic nerve.
    11.  The ordered richness of the sympathetic nerves in ganglion cells, similar to the cerebrospinal ganglia, would tend to demonstrate its dependence.
    12.  The accumulation or aggregation of ganglion cells in the sympathetic should be sufficient argument for considering them as small brains, nerve centers of life's action.
    13.  The independence of the sympathetic nerve may be observed in the fact that as it departs more widely from the cerebrospinal it increases in .elements.  Increased distribution shows increased aggregation of ganglion cells, e. g., the Meissner-Billroth and Auerbach's plexuses in the small intestines.
    14.  There is a partial necessity that the sympathetic be relatively independent, at least be out of the control of the cerebral center.  The viscera being necessitated to be in constant activity, constant rhythm, should be beyond the control of the will, so that man cannot speculate on his viscera.  The intellect cannot disturb the function of the viscera.  The actions of the sympathetic ganglion are beyond the power of the will.
    15.  A stubborn opponent of the independence of the sympathetic nerve (Hermann) freely acknowledged that automatic and reflex coordinate movements and secretions can be the indication of the sympathetic ganglion cells quite independent of the cerebrospinal symptoms.
    16.  A significant partial independence of the sympathetic may be observed in peritonitis.  The reflex irritation induced by the peritonitis causes extreme vaso-motor contraction in the skin.  The skin becomes waxy pale, the blood is forced out of the skin by contraction of the vessels and the patient dies gradually from circumference to center.  The heart at first attempts to work more vigorously to send the blood to the skin vessels, but the harder the heart works in sending the waste-laden irritating blood to the vessels, the more they contract, and gradually death approaches the heart.  The independence of the grip of the sympathetic nerve is seen in the gradual death of the patient, beginning in the skin capillaries and ending at the heart.  It is a good illustration of the fact that irritation of the sympathetic nerves may be sufficient to force all blood out of a part even to its death.
    17.  Vulpian severed the sciatic and brachial plexuses and waited until the pulp of the animal's corresponding paws became pale.  Now, by irritating the pulp of the paws a local congestion could be produced.  Hence reflex irritation of vaso-motor nerves can be limited to the particular organ or tissue supplied, showing a considerable degree of independence.
    18.  It has been suggested by Fox that myxedema is associated with the independence of the sympathetic.
    19.  Compression or macroscopial injuries of the cervical portion of the sympathetic produces such a marked physiologic phenomenon that it demonstrates in itself a considerable degree of independence of the sympathetic.  The manifestation of compression or injury of the cervical sympathetic is that of the irritation or paralysis.  Trauma of the cervical sympathetic shows marked independent functional disturbances.  Exophthalmic goiter is considered, even by the skeptical Eulenberg and Guttmann, as a paralysis of the cervical sympathetic.  If the latter can produce such vast changes, aiid such a dreadful disease, how great must be the influence of the abdominal brain in its independence.  In exophthalmic goiter the independence of the sympathetic seems dominant, for of the great triumvirate in that disease - cardiac palpitation, protrusion of the eyeball and enlargement of the thyroid gland - the cardiac palpitation seldom fails.  Few experimenters or observers fail to connect the cardiac disturbance with the cervical sympathetic, showing how dominating it is in this case.
    20.  The gastrointestinal secretions appear to be carried on automatically by the Meissner-Billroth (aided by the Auerbach) plexuses of nerves, which are sympathetic ganglia - automatic visceral ganglia.  The automatic visceral, hepatic, renal, gastrointestinal and menstrual ganglia, all show a marked degree of independence.  They produce rhythm in the viscera - activity and repose.  Undisturbed, they rule secretion harmoniously, but disturbed anatomic visceral ganglia induce (a) excessive secretion, (b) deficient secretion and (c) disproportionate secretion.  The last is the most detrimental, for it creates fermentation and unbalances nutrition.
    21.  The independence of the automatic visceral ganglia of the sympathetic may be noted in the idea that if one viscus becomes diseased it may disturb all the others by reflex action.
    22.  If one viscus becomes diseased the next to become diseased is the one connected with the diseased viscus by the greatest number of nerve strands.  If the uterus becomes diseased the next viscus in order is generally the stomach.  However, this is probably due to the fact that the disturbed stomach functions are easily observed.
    23.  The abdominal brain is a center of organization for impressions received from distal viscera.  It is a gigantic vaso-motor center for the abdominal vascular system.  The abdominal brain demonstrates its independence by its definite method of reorganizing reflex actions.  When an abdominal viscus is mildly ill, the abdominal brain reorganizes the reflex impressions and transmits them mildly to adjacent viscera.  But if a viscus is severely and especially chronically ill, the abdominal brain reorganizes the reflexes and transmits them violently to the adjacent viscera, according to the degree of illness.  Also the reflexes reorganized in the abdominal brain are transmitted outward to the viscera with greatest force on the lines of least resistance, which means that the nerve forces travel on the plexuses the best where there are the greatest number of nerve strands.
    24.  The independence of the sympathetic nerve may be observed in the phenomenon of sleep.  It never ceases action nor sleeps, while the cerebrospinal is in abeyance for about one-third of our life.
    25.  E. L. Fox reports two cases of compression myelitis in the cervical portion of the cord unattended by aily oculopupillary or vaso-motor paralysis.  This would tend to show the independence of the sympathetic, especially the cervical sympathetic.
    26.  Ex perimenters report that irritation of some portion of the cervical sympathetic will produce secretions from the parotid and submaxillary glands.
    27.  Fox asserts that irritation of the peripheral end of the cervical sympathetic will cause protrusion of the eyeball; sedation will cause sinking of the eyeball, and a slight flattening of the cornea.  We know that in the lids are sets of smooth, muscular fibers innervated by the sympathetic, and. by contraction of these the lids are opened and so the eyeball is uncovered.
    28.  In general it may be said that the sympathetic presides over involuntary movements, nutrition and secretion, holds an important influence over temperature and vaso-motor action, and is endowed with a dull sensibility.
    29.  Experiments show that after destruction of the medulla oblongata and brain of the frog irritation will cause congestion of the limbs.
    30.  The occurrence of pigmentation in the skin of the frog, after destruction of the cerebrospinal axis, shows the independence of the sympathetic.
    31.  Each histologic unit has its own nervous system, which is sufficient for it within certain limits.
It may be said that the object of the lateral chain of the sympathetic is to make known the great ganglionic system to the cerebrospinal system.
    32.  The ganglia of the uterus (sympathetic) are independent centers for reflex action.  That it can act independently may be shown by the repulsion of a child after the death of the mother.  It has a powerful reflex action on the heart.  It is a great independent sympathetic ganglion.  Associated anatomically with the abdominal brain are the following plexuses: (a) the diaphragmatic; (b) the suprarenal; (c) the renal; (d) the spermatic; (e) the superior mesenteric, which intimately connect it with all the abdominal viscera.
    33.  The expulsion of feces per rectum after death of the patinet shows that the sympathetic ganglia of the bowels are independent centers for reflex action.
    34.  Pigmentation of the skin in the frog, after destruction of the cerebrospinal, demonstrates the independence of the sympathetic.
    35.  The abdominal brain is a great reflex center.  Vaso-motor centers are organizing centers, and preside over the coordination of the visceral rhythm.  The abdominal brain is a ganglion of far reaching significance.  It has many connections with viscera and possesses vast influence over the circulation.  It presides closely over the secretion of the abdominal organs.
    36.  That the sympathetic is the only nervous system belonging to some of the lower animals is open to doubt; for if that were the case, no argument would be required to demonstrate the independence of the sympathetic.  The distinction of the cerebrospinal and sympathetic as to sleep or repose, since it cannot be proven, must be dropped.  In any argument we must admit the very intimate and mutual dependence of the sympathetic and cerebrospinal nerves on each other.
    37.  The essential feature of the pathology of the sympathetic, and also one which tends to show its independence, is that the irritation in one organ may be reflected through a sympathetic ganglion and thus disturb the balance of the viscera.  The best, most common and convincing example is irritation of the cervico-uterine ganglia, which is directly reflected to the abdominal brain, where the irritation is reorganized and sent to all the nerve plexuses.
    38.  The degree of independence of the sympathetic nerve must be worked out on the lines of experiment and observation of the effect of disease on its different parts.  To what degree is the abdominal brain a center for the reorganization of forces; how does it modify and transmit receptions?  How supreme is it over the visceral ganglia or does it coordinate their action to a definite plan?  Does it enhance or prohibit their action?  Is the abdominal brain a reflex arc for nerve forces, passing from one organ to another?  In other words, will one diseased organ unbalance all other organs by transmitting its irritation by way of the reorganizing abdominal brain?