Image Caption : Brain and Head Anatomy : The limbic system is composed of structures within and below the cortex, such as the hypothalamus, amygdala, hippocampus, and cingulate gyrus. It deals with the interpretation of emotions, motivation, the process of learning, and the storage and retrieval of memory.
The brain is divided into the cerebrum, diencephalons, brain stem, and cerebellum.
The largest and most obvious portion of the brain is the cerebrum, which is divided by a deep longitudinal fissure into two cerebral hemispheres. The two hemispheres are two separate entities but are connected by an arching band of white fibers, called the corpus callosum that provides a communication pathway between the two halves.
Each cerebral hemisphere is divided into five lobes, four of which have the same name as the bone over them: the fontal lobe, the parietal lobe, the occipital lobe, and the temporal lobe. A fifth lobe, the insula or Island of Reil, lies deep within the lateral sulcus.
The diencephalons is centrally located and is nearly surrounded by the cerebral hemispheres. It includes the thalamus, hypothalamus, and epithalamus. The thalamus, about 80 percent of the diencephalons, consists of two oval masses of gray matter that serve as relay stations for sensory impulses, except for the sense of smell, going to the cerebral cortex. The hypothalamus is a small region below the thalamus, which plays a key role in maintaining homeostasis because it regulates many visceral activities. The epithalamus is the most dorsal portion of the diencephalons. This small gland is involved with the onset of puberty and rhythmic cycles in the body. It is like a biological clock.
The brain stem is the region between the diencephalons and the spinal cord. It consists of three parts: midbrain, pons, and medulla oblongata. The midbrain is the most superior portion of the brain stem. The pons is the bulging middle portion of the brain stem. This region primarily consists of nerve fibers that form conduction tracts between the higher brain centers and spinal cord. The medulla oblongata, or simply medulla, extends inferiorly from the pons. It is continuous with the spinal cord at the foramen magnum. All the ascending (sensory) and descending (motor) nerve fibers connecting the brain and spinal cord pass through the medulla.
The cerebellum, the second largest portion of the brain, is located below the occipital lobes of the cerebrum. Three paired bundles of myelinated nerve fibers, called cerebellar peduncles, form communication pathways between the cerebellum and other parts of the central nervous system.
Ventricles and Cerebrospinal Fluid
A series of interconnected, fluid-filled cavities are found within the brain. These cavities are the ventricles of the brain, and the fluid is cerebrospinal fluid (CSF).
The spinal cord extends from the foramen magnum at the base of the skull to the level of the first lumbar vertebra. The cord is continuous with the medulla oblongata at the foramen magnum. Like the brain, the spinal cord is surrounded by bone, meninges, and cerebrospinal fluid.
The spinal cord is divided into 31 segments with each segment giving rise to a pair of spinal nerves. At the distal end of the cord, many spinal nerves extend beyond the conus medullaris to form a collection that resembles a horse's tail. This is the cauda equina. In cross section, the spinal cord appears oval in shape.
The spinal cord has two main functions:
Serving as a conduction pathway for impulses going to and from the brain. Sensory impulses travel to the brain on ascending tracts in the cord. Motor impulses travel on descending tracts.Serving as a reflex center. The reflex arc is the functional unit of the nervous system. Reflexes are responses to stimuli that do not require conscious thought and consequently, they occur more quickly than reactions that require thought processes. For example, with the withdrawal reflex, the reflex action withdraws the affected part before you are aware of the pain. Many reflexes are mediated in the spinal cord without going to the higher brain centers.
NCI / NIH
The human brain is the main organ of the human nervous system. It is located in the head, protected by the skull. It has the same general structure as the brains of other mammals, but with a more developed cerebral cortex. Large animals such as whales and elephants have larger brains in absolute terms, but when measured using a measure of relative brain size, which compensates for body size, the quotient for the human brain is almost twice as large as that of a bottlenose dolphin, and three times as large as that of a chimpanzee. Much of the size of the human brain comes from the cerebral cortex, especially the frontal lobes, which are associated with executive functions such as self-control, planning, reasoning, and abstract thought. The area of the cerebral cortex devoted to vision, the visual cortex, is also greatly enlarged in humans compared to other animals.
The human cerebral cortex is a thick layer of neural tissue that covers most of the brain. This layer is folded in a way that increases the amount of surface that can fit into the volume available. The pattern of folds is similar across individuals, although there are many small variations. The cortex is divided into four lobes – the frontal lobe, parietal lobe, temporal lobe, and occipital lobe. (Some classification systems also include a limbic lobe and treat the insular cortex as a lobe.) Within each lobe are numerous cortical areas, each associated with a particular function, including vision, motor control, and language. The left and right sides of the cortex are broadly similar in shape, and most cortical areas are replicated on both sides. Some areas, though, show strong lateralization, particularly areas that are involved in language. In most people, the left hemisphere is dominant for language, with the right hemisphere playing only a minor role. There are other functions, such as visual-spatial ability, for which the right hemisphere is usually dominant.
Despite being protected by the thick bones of the skull, suspended in cerebrospinal fluid, and isolated from the bloodstream by the blood–brain barrier, the human brain is susceptible to damage and disease. The most common forms of physical damage are closed head injuries such as a blow to the head, a stroke, or poisoning by a variety of chemicals which can act as neurotoxins, such as ethanol alcohol. Infection of the brain, though serious, is rare because of the biological barriers which protect it. The human brain is also susceptible to degenerative disorders, such as Parkinson's disease, and Alzheimer's disease, (mostly as the result of aging) and multiple sclerosis. A number of psychiatric conditions, such as schizophrenia and clinical depression, are thought to be associated with brain dysfunctions, although the nature of these is not well understood. The brain can also be the site of brain tumors and these can be benign or malignant.
There are some techniques for studying the brain that are used in other animals that are just not suitable for use in humans and vice versa. It is easier to obtain individual brain cells taken from other animals, for study. It is also possible to use invasive techniques in other animals such as inserting electrodes into the brain or disabling certains parts of the brain in order to examine the effects on behaviour – techniques that are not possible to be used in humans. However, only humans can respond to complex verbal instructions or be of use in the study of important brain functions such as language and other complex cognitive tasks, but studies from humans and from other animals, can be of mutual help. Medical imaging technologies such as functional neuroimaging and EEG recordings are important techniques in studying the brain. The complete functional understanding of the human brain is an ongoing challenge for neuroscience.
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