The Patellar Reflex (knee Jerk)
When the patellar tendon is tapped just below the knee, the patellar reflex is initiated and the lower leg kicks forward (via contraction of the quadriceps). The tap initiates an action potential in a specialised structure known as a muscle spindle located within the quadriceps. This action potential travels to the spinal cord, via a sensory axon which chemically communicates by releasing glutamate (see synapse) onto a motor nerve. The result of this motor nerve activity is contraction of the quadriceps muscle, leading to extension of the lower leg at the knee. The sensory input from the quadriceps also activates local interneurons that release the inhibitory neurotransmitter glycine onto motor neurons, blocking the innervation of the antagonistic (hamstring) muscle. The relaxation of the opposing muscle facilitates extension of the lower leg.
In lower animals reflex interneurons do not necessarily reside in the spinal cord, for example as in the lateral giant neuron of crayfish.
Read more about this topic: Reflex Arc
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