How Cells Communicate During the Fight or Flight Response

When our senses perceive an environmental stress such as danger or a threat, cells in the nervous and endocrine systems work closely together to prepare the body for action. Often referred to as the fight or flight or stress response, this remarkable example of cell communication elicits instantaneous and simultaneous responses throughout the body.

Initiating the Response

Sensory nerve cells pass the perception of a threat, or stress, from the environment to the hypothalamus in the brain. Neurosecretory cells in the hypothalamus transmit a signal to the pituitary gland inciting cells there to release a chemical messenger into the bloodstream. Simultaneously, the hypothalamus transmits a nerve signal down the spinal cord. Both the chemical messenger and nerve impulse will travel to the same destination, the adrenal gland.

Keeping the Signal Going

Sitting atop the kidneys, the adrenal glands receive nerve and chemical signals initiated by cells in the hypothalamus. Nerve signals activate the release of epinephrine into the bloodstream.

When chemical messengers arrive via the bloodstream, they dock on to receptors and begin a cell signaling cascade that results in the production of cortisol. Cortisol is released into the blood stream where it begins signaling cascades in several cell types, resulting in an increase in blood pressure, increase in blood sugar levels, and suppression of the immune system.

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