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The autonomic system, however, targets cardiac and smooth muscle, as well as glandular tissue.
Whereas the basic circuit is a reflex arc, there are differences in the structure of those reflexes for the somatic and autonomic systems.
Many of the inputs to visceral reflexes are from special or somatic senses, but particular senses are associated with the viscera that are not part of the conscious perception of the environment through the somatic nervous system.
For example, there is a specific type of mechanoreceptor, called a baroreceptor, in the walls of the aorta and carotid sinuses that senses the stretch of those organs when blood volume or pressure increases.
However, the neck and shoulder would connect to the spinal cord at the mid-cervical level of the spinal cord.
These sensations are not the same as feeling high blood pressure or blood sugar levels.
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The autonomic nervous system regulates organ systems through circuits that resemble the reflexes described in the somatic nervous system.
The output of a visceral reflex is a two-step pathway starting with the preganglionic fiber emerging from a lateral horn neuron in the spinal cord, or a cranial nucleus neuron in the brain stem, to a ganglion—followed by the postganglionic fiber projecting to a target effector.
The other part of a reflex, the afferent branch, is often the same between the two systems.