The central nervous system is so named because it integrates information it receives from, and coordinates and influences the activity of, all parts of the bodies.
Arguably many consider the retina and the optic nerve (2nd cranial nerve), as well as the olfactory nerves (1st) and olfactory epithelium as parts of the CNS, synapsing directly on brain tissue without intermediate ganglia. Following this classification the olfactory epithelium is the only central nervous tissue in direct contact with the environment, which opens up for therapeutic treatments.
The CNS is contained within the dorsal cavity, with the brain in the cranial cavity and the spinal cord in the spinal cavity. In vertebrates, the brain is protected by the skull, while the spinal cord is protected by the vertebrae, both enclosed in the meninges.