I've gathered from a number of sources (e.g., Patel (2015), Wikipedia, and here) that the sympathetic nerves leaving the sympathetic trunk to innervate the heart and lungs are called "cardiopulmonary splanchnic nerves".

However, I've noticed that both the 14th and 15th edition of Tortora & Derrickson's A&P textbook seem to suggest that these nerves are simply called "sympathetic nerves," even though they make reference to abdominopelvic and adrenal splanchnic nerves more specifically. See below from Tortora & Derrickson (2013):

...Then, the axons of the postganglionic neurons leave the trunk by forming sympathetic nerves that extend to visceral effectors in the thoracic cavity (Figure 15.4). Sympathetic nerves provide sympathetic innervation to the heart and lungs.

Here are subsets of images from Patel (2015) [LEFT] vs Tortora & Derrickson (2013) [RIGHT] (my emphasis):

enter image description here

My question: Are "Sympathetic nerves" the same as "cardiopulmonary splanchnic" nerves?

  • Are these names interchangeable? I can't find further evidence supporting Tortora and Derrickson's usage of this phrase in such a specific manner to refer to postganglionic neurons leaving the trunk to innervate the heart and lungs. Are they acting rogue? Are they simplifying? Any insight would be appreciated.

Cited works:

Patel, T. R. 2015. "Chapter 36 - Anatomy of the Sympathetic Nervous System." Pages 495-506 in Tubbs, R.S., Rizk, E., Shoja, M.M., Loukas, M., Barbaro, N. and Spinner, R.J. eds. Nerves and Nerve Injuries: Vol 1: History, Embryology, Anatomy, Imaging, and Diagnostics. Academic Press.

Tortora, G. J. and B. Derrickson. 2013. Principles of anatomy and physiology, 14th edition. John Wiley & sons, Inc.


2 Answers 2


You might consider cross-posting to SE Medical sciences who know more about this stuff.

I think that they are simply using a more general term than other authors. In the same way, most people call crabs crabs, but some people might occasionally refer to them as crustaceans.

Based on wikipedia, it seems that cardiopulmonary splanchnic nerves are a subset of sympathetic nerves. The sympathetic nervous system innervates a large number of organ systems of the body (see image), such that the cardiopulmonary splanchnic nerves are simply the sympathetic nerves that innervate the heart and lungs.

Looking further at the wikipedia for splanchnic nerves, it seems that this is a technical term relating to the fashion in which organs are innervated by the sympathetic nervous system; e.g. in my crude understanding they are organ hookups to the sympathetic nervous system.

In other words, all cardiopulmonary splanchnic nerves are sympathetic nerves, but most sympathetic nerves are not cardiopulmonary splanchnic nerves.

enter image description here

  • $\begingroup$ thanks for the answer. However, -1 b/c I feel like it doesn't answer my question. I know what the sympathetic nervous system is, and I know that the cardiopulmonary splanchnic nerves are the part of the sympathetic system that go to the heart/lungs. I also know that all nerves carrying sympathetic signals are considered "sympathetic nerves". I indicated all of this in my post. It appears to me, that everything you've mentioned in this answer repeats points made in my question, so I don't think this is actually an answer to my question. Could you clarify your post if this isn't the case? $\endgroup$ Commented May 2, 2020 at 7:01
  • $\begingroup$ IMO you did not indicate all of that. It was not clear that you understood that the sympathetic nervous system could be a superset of nerves of which splanchnic nerves was a subset, and that the authors in question could be substituting a more general term. I am happy to delete the answer if you do not feel that it addresses your question. But if you knew all of that in the first place I am not sure why you are even asking the question? It seems you have answered it yourself before even posting it. $\endgroup$ Commented May 2, 2020 at 15:56

Cardiopulmonary splanchic nerves consist of:

  • sympathetic nerves

  • the vagus nerve (a part of parasymathetic system)


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