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What Is the Cranial Cavity?

The pituitary gland lies in the cranial cavity and is responsible for breast milk production.
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  • Written By: Meshell Powell
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 25 August 2014
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The cranial cavity is a space found inside the cranium of the human skull. There are several organs and structures located within this cavity, including the brain. There are a total of eight cranial bones which are fused together in order to form this area.

The hypophysis cerebri, more commonly referred to as the pituitary gland, is found within the cranial cavity. This gland secretes a variety of hormones which are responsible for many bodily functions. For example, physical growth and sexual function are regulated by the pituitary gland, as is the body's regulation of temperature. Proper functioning of the thyroid gland and the production of breast milk are still other functions made possible by the pituitary gland.

Portions of various spinal and cranial nerves reside inside the cranial cavity as well. The cranial nerves are responsible for providing sensory information necessary for such things as taste, smell, sight, and the ability to hear. The abilities to speak and chew are also aided by the cranial nerves. The nerves of the spine process sensory and motor signals, primarily providing normal sensation and function for the arms and legs.

Along with various blood vessels supplying the brain and other areas of the cranial cavity, the meninges is also found in this area of the head. This is a group of membranes that surrounds the central nervous system. When an infection develops in the meninges, a potentially fatal illness called meningitis may develop.

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Cerebrospinal fluid is present inside of the cranial cavity as well. This is a clear fluid that circulates throughout the entire central nervous system. The cerebrospinal fluid acts as a shock absorber for the brain and spinal cord. This prevents damage from occurring during normal movements, such as walking, as well as minor falls or other injuries. Another responsibility of the cerebrospinal fluid is to deliver nutrients to the various parts of the central nervous system. This fluid also works to remove waste materials from the brain and spinal cord.

Due to the number of structures located in the cranial cavity, a traumatic injury to the head has the potential to cause major damage. For this reason, it is important to receive immediate medical attention following a head injury. Mild damage may have few, if any, negative effects. On the other end of the spectrum, severe damage to the contents of this cavity can lead to permanent nerve damage or even death.

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Monika
Post 3

Now that I've read this article, I think I understand meningitis a bit better. I knew it wasn't a great disease to get, but now I understand why!

Not only do the meninges surround the brain, but they surround other areas of the central nervous system too. Obviously an infection in this area could quickly spread to the brain.

Also, I know infections cause inflammation a lot. I would imagine that if the meninges became inflamed, they would put a lot of pressure on the brain. There's only so much room in the cranial cavity, after all.

ceilingcat
Post 2

@starrynight - Interesting. I remember years ago my mom was convinced that people could give themselves a brain injury by headbanging. Now that I've read your comment this actually makes sense. People definitely do that with enough force to cause the brain to hit the front of the skull.

Anyway, I remember learning about the cranial cavity when I took anatomy and physiology. I didn't get a very good grade, sadly.

There is a lot going on in the cranial cavity. Between the nerves, the brain and learning about the skull bones, I just couldn't keep track of it all!

starrynight
Post 1

The cranial cavity is really amazing. I don't know why I always thought the brain just kind of sat in there right on your skull, but as the article said, that's not the case.

It's actually surrounded in cerebrospinal fluid and of course surrounded by the meninges. It doesn't touch the skull at all, normally.

However, the brain can move in the cerebrospinal fluid. I believe this is what causes a concussion. Your brain actually hits your skull because of the force of the head injury.

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