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date: 26 May 2019

Abstract and Keywords

The central nervous system (CNS) comprising the brain and the spinal cord is the control system of bodily functions and processes incoming information from the external environment via diverse sensory systems. Incoming information from the body (interoception) and from the environment (exteroception) is integrated and utilised in complex patterns of action and re-action (allostasis) to maintain homoeostasis and ensure survival and reproduction. The brains of primates are larger than expected for their body weight, whereby the human brain is not exceptional in terms of the number of neurons. However, connectivity and cross-talk between different brain areas has increased during human evolution. The adult human brain consumes about 20% of total energy intake, which is needed to maintain complex excitatory and inhibitory mechanisms with the aid of glia cells and microglia. Abnormal amounts of stress during different stages of development may expose the CNS to an excess of toxic and inflammatory metabolic products, which may cause neuropsychiatric disease and disorders. Such stressors may include, among other factors, adverse events such as abuse or neglect during childhood, immunological mismatches between ancestral and current environments, and a plethora of social challenges related to ‘modern’ cultural peculiarities. Gene–environment interactions involved in CNS disease processes are far from being fully understood. Preventive measures to protect the CNS from premature functional deterioration may include safe-guarding child development, a reduction of toxic waste products, and mental and physical exercise.

Keywords: brain, spinal cord, interoception, exteroception, allostasis, excitatory and inhibitory processes, toxic and inflammatory metabolic products, microglia, neuropsychiatric disease and disorders, gene–environment interaction, evolution, medicine

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