Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.
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.