The autonomic nervous system (ANS or visceral nervous system) is the part of the peripheral nervous system that acts as a control system functioning largely below the level of consciousness, and controls visceral functions. The ANS affects heart rate, digestion, respiration rate, salivation, perspiration, diameter of the pupils, micturition (urination), and sexual arousal. Whereas most of its actions are involuntary, some, such as breathing, work in tandem with the conscious mind.
It is classically divided into two subsystems: the parasympathetic nervous system and sympathetic nervous system. Relatively recently, a third subsystem of neurons that have been named 'non-adrenergic and non-cholinergic' neurons (because they use nitric oxide as a neurotransmitter) have been described and found to be integral in autonomic function, particularly in the gut and the lungs.
With regard to function, the ANS is usually divided into sensory (afferent) and motor (efferent) subsystems. Within these systems, however, there are inhibitory and excitatory synapses between neurones.
The enteric nervous system is sometimes considered part of the autonomic nervous system, and sometimes considered an independent system.