Brain Anatomy

Written by Ann Pietrangelo
Medically Reviewed by George Krucik, MD, MBA on May 23, 2013

Brain Anatomy Overview

The complex human brain controls who we are: how we think, feel, and act. It gives meaning to our world and our place in it. The brain also controls all major body functions.

The brain is housed in the skull, which protects it from injury. Averaging a pound at birth, the brain grows to approximately three pounds by adulthood. A crucial component of the central nervous system (CNS), which also controls the spinal cord, it is composed of two types of cells. Neuron cells send and receive signals to and from the rest of the body. Non-neuron cells (glial cells) form myelin (a fatty insulating later around nerve fibers), maintain stability, and provide nutrition and support.

Each part of the brain performs a particular function and is linked to other parts of the brain.

Meninges

In between the skull and brain are three layers of tissue, called meninges, which protect the brain. The strong outermost layer is named the dura mater. The arachnoid mater, the middle layer, is a thin membrane made of blood vessels and elastic tissue which covers the entire brain. The pia mater is the innermost layer, with blood vessels that run deep into the brain.

Parts and Functions of the Brain

The cerebrum, or forebrain, forms the biggest part of the brain and is divided in two halves. The left hemisphere is largely responsible for language. The right hemisphere is important for interpreting visual cues and spatial processing. The cerebrum controls coordination, temperature, sight, sound, reasoning, learning, and emotions.

The space between the two hemispheres is called the great longitudinal fissure. The corpus callosum connects the two sides and transfers signals from one side of the brain to the other.

The cerebrum has billions of neurons and glia that form the cerebral cortex, its outermost layer. This is what is commonly known as gray matter. Connection fibers between neurons beneath the surface of the brain are called white matter.

The cerebellum, or hindbrain, handles fine motor movements, balance, and posture. It helps us to perform quick and repetitive movements.

The brainstem is in front of the cerebellum and is connected to the spinal cord. Its job is to pass signals between the cerebral cortex and the rest of the body. It is made up of three parts. The midbrain controls eye movements, facial sensation, balance, and hearing. Signals from the cortex to the spinal cord and nerves move through the pons, which controls sensory analysis, motor skills, sleep, and consciousness. The lowest part of the brainstem is the medulla oblongata, which controls heart and lung functions.

Ventricular System

The brain has four ventricles (cavities) connected by cavities and tubes. The two lateral ventricles in the cerebral hemispheres communicate with a third in the center of the brain. It communicates with the fourth at the base of the brain through a tube called the cerebral aqueduct.

Cerebrospinal fluid flows through the fourth ventricle and around the brain. This is a clear, watery liquid produced in the ventricles. It cushions the brain and spinal cord and is continually absorbed and replenished.

The pineal gland is an outgrowth at the back of the third ventricle. Its purpose is not fully understood, but it is thought to play a part in sexual maturation.

Lobes

The frontal lobe is the largest part of the brain, located in the front of the head. It helps to form reasoning, emotions, and movement. The parietal lobe is the middle part of the brain. It helps us to understand our place in relation to other people and things. It also helps us to interpret touch and pain. The occipital lobe is the back of the brain and helps us process visual information.

The temporal lobes are located on each side of the brain. They help with memory, language, and our sense of smell. They also help us to recognize faces and objects and interpret the reactions of other people.

Limbic System

The limbic system is responsible for emotions. The thalamus is the hub for information coming and going to the cortex. It deals with the sensation of pain and alertness. The hypothalamus, part of the thalamus, is a tiny structure that sends messages to the pituitary gland. It also helps to control sexual behavior, eating, sleeping, body temperature, and movement. The amygdala is involved in processing aggressive behavior and fear. The hippocampus helps us to remember new information.

Pituitary Gland

The pituitary is a small gland at the base of the brain that secretes hormones. It plays a key role in the function of other glands, organs, sexual development, and growth.

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