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Anatomy of the Central Nervous System (cont.)

The Central Structures of the Brain

The central structures of the brain include the thalamus, hypothalamus, and pituitary gland. The hippocampus is located in the temporal lobe but participates in the processing of memory and emotions and is interconnected with central structures. Other structures are the basal ganglia, which are made up of gray matter and include the amygdala (localized in the temporal lobe), the caudate nucleus, and the lenticular nucleus (putamen and globus pallidus). Because the caudate and putamen are structurally similar, neuropathologists have coined for them the collective term striatum.

  • The thalamus integrates and relays sensory information to the cortex of the parietal, temporal, and occipital lobes. The thalamus is located in the lower central part of the brain (that is, upper part of the brainstem) and is located medially to the basal ganglia. The brain hemispheres lie on the thalamus. Other roles of the thalamus include motor and memory control.
  • The hypothalamus, located below the thalamus, regulates automatic functions such as appetite, thirst, and body temperature. It also secretes hormones that stimulate or suppress the release of hormones (for example, growth hormones) in the pituitary gland.
  • The pituitary gland is located at the base of the brain. The pituitary gland produces hormones that control many functions of other endocrine glands. It regulates the production of many hormones that have a role in growth, metabolism, sexual response, fluid and mineral balance, and the stress response.
  • The ventricles are cerebrospinal fluid-filled cavities in the interior of the cerebral hemispheres.

The Base of the Brain

The base of the brain contains the cerebellum and the brainstem. These structures serve complex functions. Below is a simplified version of these roles:

  • Traditionally, the cerebellum has been known to control equilibrium and coordination and contributes to the generation of muscle tone. It has more recently become evident, however, that the cerebellum plays more diverse roles such as participating in some types of memory and exerting a complex influence on musical and mathematical skills.
  • The brainstem connects the brain with the spinal cord. It includes the midbrain, the pons, and the medulla oblongata. It is a compact structure in which multiple pathways traverse from the brain to the spinal cord and vice versa. For instance, nerves that arise from cranial nerve nuclei are involved with eye movements and exit the brainstem at several levels. Damage to the brainstem can therefore affect a number of bodily functions. For instance, if the corticospinal tract is injured, a loss of motor function (paralysis) occurs, and it may be accompanied by other neurologic deficits, such as eye movement abnormalities, which are reflective of injury to cranial nerves or their pathways in the brainstem.
    • The midbrain is located below the hypothalamus. Some cranial nerves that are also responsible for eye muscle control exit the midbrain.
    • The pons serves as a bridge between the midbrain and the medulla oblongata. The pons also contains the nuclei and fibers of nerves that serve eye muscle control, facial muscle strength, and other functions.
    • The medulla oblongata is the lowest part of the brainstem and is interconnected with the cervical spinal cord. The medulla oblongata also helps control involuntary actions, including vital processes, such as heart rate, blood pressure, and respiration, and it carries the corticospinal (that is, motor function) tract toward the spinal cord.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 9/11/2017
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