Connection lost. Please refresh the page.
Get help How to study Login Register
Ready to learn?
Pick your favorite study tool

Parasympathetic ganglia

Superior ganglion of vagus nerve
Superior ganglion of vagus nerve

Ganglia are aggregations of neuronal somata and are of varying form and size. They occur in the dorsal roots of spinal nerves, in the sensory roots of the trigeminal, facial, glossopharyngeal, vagal and vestibulocochlear cranial nerves as well as in autonomic nerves and in the enteric nervous system. Each ganglion is enclosed within a capsule of fibrous connective tissue and contains neuronal somata and neuronal processes. Some ganglia, particularly in the autonomic nervous system (ANS), contain fibres from cell bodies that lie elsewhere in the nervous system and that either pass through, or terminate within, the ganglia.

The parasympathetic ganglia or craniosacral ganglia are a division of efferent nerve fibers and ganglia of the ANS. The second division is the sympathetic or thoracolumbar ganglia.

  1. Description
  2. General Functions
  3. Summary
  4. Sources
+ Show all


The parasympathetic ganglia are involuntary and act with the sympathetic system to maintain body homeostasis among other functions. One of the important actions of the parasympathetic nervous system is associated with the ‘rest and digest’ response. Presynaptic parasympathetic neuron cell bodies are located in two sites within the central nervous system (CNS), their fibers exiting by two routes:

  • In the gray matter of the brainstem, the fibers exit the CNS within cranial nerves III, VII, IX, and X; constituting the cranial parasympathetic outflow.
  • In the gray matter of the sacral segment of the spinal cord (S2 through S4), the fibers exit the CNS through the anterior roots of spinal nerves S2 through S4, and the pelvic splanchnic nerves that arise from their anterior rami; these fibers constitute the sacral parasympathetic outflow.

Not surprisingly, the cranial outflow provides parasympathetic innervation of the head, and the sacral outflow provides the parasympathetic outflow of the pelvic viscera. However, in terms of the innervation of the thoracic and the abdominal viscera, the cranial outflow through the vagus nerve (CN X) is dominant. It provides innervation to all the thoracic viscera and most of the gastrointestinal tract from the esophagus through most of the large bowel (to its left colic flexure). The sacral outflow supplies only the descending and sigmoid colon and rectum.

Regardless of the extensive influence of its cranial outflow, the parasympathetic system is much more restricted than the sympathetic system in its distribution. The parasympathetic system distributes only to:

  1. The head.
  2. Viscera cavities of the trunk.
  3. Erectile tissues of the external genitalia.

With the exception of the latter, it does not reach the body wall or limbs, and except for the initial parts of the anterior rami of spinal nerves S2 – S4, its fibers are not components of spinal nerves or their branches. Four discrete pairs of parasympathetic ganglia occur in the head. Elsewhere, presynaptic parasympathetic fibers synapse with postsynaptic cell bodies that occur singly in or on the wall of the target organ (intrinsic or enteric ganglia). The parasympathetic ganglia of the head and neck are:

  • Ciliary ganglion
  • Pterygopalatine ganglion
  • Submandibular ganglion
  • Otic ganglion

A handy mnemonic to remember these is "Cats Prefer Sexy Owners".

General Functions

The parasympathetic ganglia is primarily a homeostatic or anabolic (energy-conserving) system promoting the quiet and orderly processes of the body, such as those that allow the body to feed and assimilate. Some specific functions of the parasympathetic ganglia include the following, and are also illustrated in the diagram below:

  1. Constricts pupil (protects pupil from excessively bright light).
  2. Contracts ciliary muscle, allowing the lens to thicken for near vision (accommodation).
  3. Promotes secretion of the lacrimal glands.
  4. Promotes abundant watery secretions of salivary glands.
  5. Decreases the rate and strength of contraction (conserving energy); constrict coronary vessels in relation to reduced demand.
  6. Constricts bronchi (conserving energy) and promotes bronchi secretion of the lungs.
  7. Stimulates peristalsis and secretion of digestive juices. Contracts rectum, inhibits internal anal sphincter to cause defecation.
  8. Promotes building/conservation of glycogen; increases secretion of bile.
  9. Inhibits contraction of internal sphincter of the urinary bladder, contracts detrusor muscle of the urinary bladder wall causing urination.
  10. Produces engorgement (erection) of erectile tissues of the external genitals.
Detrusor muscle of the urinary bladder (coronal section)

Parasympathetic ganglia: want to learn more about it?

Our engaging videos, interactive quizzes, in-depth articles and HD atlas are here to get you top results faster.

What do you prefer to learn with?

“I would honestly say that Kenhub cut my study time in half.” – Read more.

Kim Bengochea, Regis University, Denver
© Unless stated otherwise, all content, including illustrations are exclusive property of Kenhub GmbH, and are protected by German and international copyright laws. All rights reserved.

Register now and grab your free ultimate anatomy study guide!