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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.