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Brainstem

 

Explanations > Brains > Parts > Brainstem

Description | Discussion | See also

 

Description

The brainstem connects the spinal cord to the rest of the brain. It is made up of the midbrain plus the pons and the medulla (in other words, the midbrain plus the hindbrain excluding the cerebellum).

It has a key role in regulation of basic body functions, including breathing, eating, blood flow and the nervous system (including sensitivity to pain). It is also central in managing wakefulness and the sleep cycle.

Discussion

The brainstem is an evolutionary ancient part of the brain and is sometimes called the 'reptilian brain' as it provides the basic bodily control in reptiles and other non-mammals.

Some regulation of body functions is automatic, for example control of breathing. We do not need to think about this and if we try to stop it, the brainstem will override such cortical foolishness (if necessary, making us unconscious to do so).

Other activities need the body to take conscious actions, such as eating. For this, the brainstem creates urges that the cortex takes up, for example finding and ingesting food to satisfy hunger. In doing so, we feel 'empty' when an urge is active and 'full' when it is removed.

Because of its basic functioning, damage to the brainstem can be fatal.

The term 'brainstem' is sometimes written 'brain stem'. It is often used loosely and may be used to indicate the midbrain plus all of the hindbrain, just the hindbrain, or even a part of the hindbrain. In general, the intent is to differentiate the primitive parts of the brain from the forebrain, including the emotional limbic system and the thinking cortex).

See also

Hindbrain, The Brain's Urge system, Brain subdivisions

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