Human physiology

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Editor-In-Chief: C. Michael Gibson, M.S., M.D. [1]


Human physiology is the science of the mechanical, physical, and biochemical functions of humans in good health, their organs, and the cells of which they are composed. The principal level of focus of physiology is at the level of organs and systems. Most aspects of human physiology are closely homologous to corresponding aspects of animal physiology, and animal experimentation has provided much of the foundation of physiological knowledge. Anatomy and physiology are closely related fields of study: anatomy, the study of form, and physiology, the study of function, are intrinsically tied and are therefore often studied in tandem as part of a medical curriculum.

Integration, Communication, and Homeostasis

The biological basis of the study of physiology, integration refers to the overlap of many functions of the systems of the human body, as well as its accompanied form. It is achieved through communication which occurs in a variety of ways, both electrically as well as chemically.

In terms of the human body, the endocrine and nervous systems play major roles in the reception and transmission of signals which integrate function. Homeostasis is the process by which the body maintains a stable internal environment, or one of “similar condition” as described by Walter Bradford Cannon. In Cannon’s Postulate, the body's ability to regulate pH, temperature, fluid volume, pressure, and osmolarity are recognized through highly evolved feedback systems, which act to finely tune many different chemical and electrical responses.

  • The concentration of ions in relations to one another (e.g. Na+, K+, H+) determine the body's pH, which is closely regulated by the respiratory and urinary systems.
  • Temperature in the body is determined by both the external environment of the organism as well as the amount of heat produced by anabolic reactions within the body regulated by respiratory and cardiovascular systems
  • Fluid volume and pressure, and osmolarity are regulated by the urinary, cardiovascular, and respiratory systems.

Physiology is the study of these systems' integrated functions and the processes by which they maintain the milieu interieur, or internal environment.


Traditionally, the academic discipline of physiology views the body as a collection of interacting systems, each with its own combination of functions and purposes.

System Clinical study Physiology
The nervous system consists of the central nervous system (which is the brain and spinal cord) and peripheral nervous system. The brain is the organ of thought, emotion, and sensory processing, and serves many aspects of communication and control of various other systems and functions. The special senses consist of vision, hearing, taste, and smell. The eyes, ears, tongue, and nose gather information about the body's environment. neuroscience, neurology (disease), psychiatry (behavioral), ophthalmology (vision), otolaryngology (hearing, taste, smell) neurophysiology
The musculoskeletal system consists of the human skeleton (which includes bones, ligaments, tendons, and cartilage) and attached muscles. It gives the body basic structure and the ability for movement. In addition to their structural role, the larger bones in the body contain bone marrow, the site of production of blood cells. Also, all bones are major storage sites for calcium and phosphate. osteology (skeleton), orthopedics (bone disorders) cell physiology
The circulatory system consists of the heart and blood vessels (arteries, veins, capillaries). The heart propels the circulation of the blood, which serves as a "transportation system" to transfer oxygen, fuel, nutrients, waste products, immune cells, and signalling molecules (i.e., hormones) from one part of the body to another. The blood consists of fluid that carries cells in the circulation, including some that move from tissue to blood vessels and back, as well as the spleen and bone marrow. cardiology (heart), hematology (blood) cardiovascular physiology
The gastrointestinal system consists of the mouth, esophagus, stomach, gut (small and large intestines), and rectum, as well as the liver, pancreas, gallbladder, and salivary glands. It converts food into small, nutritional, non-toxic molecules for distribution by the circulation to all tissues of the body, and excretes the unused residue. gastroenterology gastrointestinal physiology
The respiratory system consists of the nose, nasopharynx, trachea, and lungs. It brings oxygen from the air and excretes carbon dioxide and water back into the air. pulmonology. respiratory physiology
The urinary system consists of the kidneys, ureters, bladder, and urethra. It removes water from the blood to produce urine, which carries a variety of waste molecules and excess ions and water out of the body. nephrology (function), urology (structural disease) renal physiology
The immune system consists of the white blood cells, the thymus, lymph nodes and lymph channels, which are also part of the lymphatic system. The immune system provides a mechanism for the body to distinguish its own cells and tissues from alien cells and substances and to neutralize or destroy the latter by using specialized proteins such as antibodies, cytokines, and toll-like receptors, among many others. immunology immunology
The endocrine system consists of the principal endocrine glands: the pituitary, thyroid, adrenals, pancreas, parathyroids, and gonads, but nearly all organs and tissues produce specific endocrine hormones as well. The endocrine hormones serve as signals from one body system to another regarding an enormous array of conditions, and resulting in variety of changes of function. endocrinology endocrinology
The reproductive system consists of the gonads and the internal and external sex organs. The reproductive system produces gametes in each sex, a mechanism for their combination, and a nurturing environment for the first 9 months of development of the offspring. gynecology (women), andrology (men), sexology (behavioral aspects) embryology (developmental aspects) reproductive physiology
The integumentary system consists of the covering of the body (the skin), including hair and nails as well as other functionally important structures such as the sweat glands and sebaceous glands. The skin provides containment, structure, and protection for other organs, but it also serves as a major sensory interface with the outside world. dermatology cell physiology

The traditional divisions by system are somewhat arbitrary. Many body parts participate in more than one system, and systems might be organized by function, by embryological origin, or other categorizations. In particular, is the "neuroendocrine system", the complex interactions of the neurological and endocrinological systems which together regulate physiology. Furthermore, many aspects of physiology are not as easily included in the traditional organ system categories.

The study of how physiology is altered in disease is pathophysiology.

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