Crash course in brain anatomy anyone?
The terminology associated with brain anatomy can seem intimidating to the uninitiated, but really there’s no need to be intimidated.
A pair of cartoon rodents (Pinky and the Brain) managed to get their heads around it and so will you.
Here’s their quick guided tour to the different parts of the human brain.
It’s a shame they don’t really mention the role of each area they name.
I guess that would have made making the lyrics rhyme even more complicated!
To supplement their guide to neuroanatomy (what bit is where) I’ve given a quick overview of what each bit does in the order they’re covered in the cartoon:
1) Neocortex – the whole large sheet of brain cells on the brain’s outer surface, folded up into the skull giving it the appearance of a walnut.
2) Frontal lobe – the region of the neocortex at the front of the brain, behind the forehead, which is much larger in humans than our monkey cousins and enables us to do all those complex functions that other primates cannot.
3) Brainstem – the part of the brain that ninja assasins aim for with their deadly chop where neck meets skull, it is involved in coordinating all the vital bodily functions that keep us alive e.g. breathing and heart rates.
4) Hippocampus – key brain area at the core of the temporal lobes (which run horizontally down the sides of the head from the temple to behind the ears) which is heavily involved in not just creating, but also retrieving memories. It also creates new brain cells in response to exercise!
5) Neural node – erm, I think they just needed something sciency sounding to rhyme with the other lines. The image THE BRAIN enlarges with the magnifying glass is a single brain cell complete with nucleus (which contains all the DNA) at it’s centre, the dendrites (receiving information from other brain cells) plus a single axon (along which electrical messages are sent to other brain cells).
6) Right hemisphere – the left and right sides of the neocortex are separated by a fluid filled gap yet are connected by a massive bundle of neuronal connections called the corpus callosum that bridge the gap enabling left and right sides to send and receive information between them.
7) Pons – All of the commands travelling from parts of the neocortex involved in motor control (i.e. body movements) pass through the pons which sits on top of the brainstem which is at the very top of the spinal cord through which the brain controls all the muscles of the body.
8) Cortex visual, usually referred to as the visual cortex, sits right at the back of the brain. So the eyes quite literally detect light striking the retina, at the back of the eyeball, and send this information all the way to the back of the brain before we can see anything!
9) Pineal, usually referred to as the pineal gland, is about the size of a grain of rice and produces melatonin which regulates the sleep/wake cycle. Daylight in the morning switches off melatonin production to make us feel awake, switching production back on in the evening so we can sleep.
10) Cerebellum left and right, critical for balance and co-ordinated muscle contractions important for effective speech, walking, running, swimming and all sporting activities etc.
11) Synapse – the gap between one neuron and the next. Electrical signals arriving at the end of one neuron releases tiny packets of brain chemicals that travel across the synapse, bind with special receptors on the other neuron to trigger or inhibit electrical signals its own electrical messages.
12) Hypothalamus – the most important site of hormone production and release that powerfully regulates innumerable body and brain functions.
13) Striate, a. k. a. striatum – enormously important subcortical brain area (deep in the brain not on the surface of the neocortex) involved in reward and motivation, planning and modulation of movements, named thus due to its stripy appearance.
14) Axon fibres – as mentioned before this is the part of the brain cell that sends electrical messages to other brain cells.
15) Matter grey, usually know as the famous Grey Matter. This is darker than the white matter as this is where all the synapses and cell bodies are. So it is in the grey matter that all the computational power of the brain is unleashed.
16) Central tegmental pathway: the tegmentum is a part of the midbrain – which lies between the striatum and the brain stem. Activation of the ventral tegmental area, i.e. the “belly” of the tegmentum, causes the feelings of intense pleasure when people eat, drink, have sex or take drugs.
17) Temporal lobe – the upper surface of the temporal lobes is the part of the brain we hear with.
18) White core matter, usually referred to as White Matter, consists of millions and millions of axonal fibres that ferrying electrical signals from one brain area to the next.
19) Forebrain – we’ve done that already
20) Skull – the bone in which our brain is cradled
21) Central fissure – the name for the fluid filled gap described earlier which separates the left and right hemispheres
22) Cord spinal, usually known as the spinal cord, through which axons pass sending messages from brain to body and body to brain.
23) Parietal – one of the lobes of the neocortex – involved in spatial awareness, focusing attention and mathematical calculations.
24) Pia mater – is the innermost of the three brain sacks (or meninges) which cushion and protect the brain.
25) Meningeal vein – blood vessels taking waste materials away from the outer parts of the neocortex.
26) Medulla oblongata – lower part of the brain stem, also involved in triggering reflexes like vomiting, sneezing, coughing etc.
27) Lobe limbic – usually known as limbic system, deep inside brain beneath the temporal lobes, involved in generating emotions.
28) Microelectrodes – there is not a microelectrode in sight so just ignore that lyric!
In addition to these monthly brain posts you can follow me on Twitter for my thrice daily #braintweet.
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