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What Is the Diencephalon?

The pineal gland secretes melatonin, which promotes sleep.
The human brain.
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  • Last Modified Date: 15 April 2014
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The diencephalon, also known as the interbrain or betweenbrain, is one of the major areas of the brain, along with the brainstem, cerebellum, and cerebrum. This structure in the brain contains a number of smaller components of the brain which perform a variety of roles to keep the body functioning. In people with disorders which involve the diencephalon, a number of neurological symptoms can manifest and treatment is usually required to address dysregulation of body functions.

This structure houses the thalamus, hypothalamus, pineal gland, and a number of related structures. One of the key roles of the diencephalon is as a relay system for the brain. It accepts sensory input from all over the body, with the exception of olfactory information, and relays this information to relevant areas of the brain so that it can be processed. Whether someone is listening to the sound of an orchestra or picking cherries, the diencephalon is involved in the perception of those sensations.

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Another role of the diencephalon is in the regulation of the endocrine system. The endocrine system uses hormones to control a variety of bodily functions. Hormone levels fluctuate in response to changing input and the diencephalon is involved in the regulation of hormone levels, from detecting increases and triggering a reduction in production to identifying the need for additional hormones and sending signals to make more. Endocrine disorders are sometimes related to problems with the diencephalon; in cases where the overall endocrine system does not appear to be functioning normally structures in the diencephalon can be at fault.

More functions of the diencephalon include regulation of the viscera of the body. This occurs on a level which is not conscious, but makes it no less important. This area of the brain is involved in activities like breathing and swallowing, for example. It is also involved in the regulation of the central nervous system and it complements the functions of the limbic system as well.

Disorders of the diencephalon can result in a wide variety of symptoms, depending on the area involved, the disorder, and the extent of the problem. Medical imaging studies can sometimes be used to identify problems such as tumors, unusual variations in size, tissue damage, inflammation, or infection. Workups of patients including neurological examinations, testing of hormone levels, and related activities can also provide more information which can help a physician understand the roots of a patient's medical issue.

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anon356518
Post 4

This really helped for my science fair research paper. Thanks!

anon327029
Post 3

The brain stem contains the midbrain, pons and medulla.

Functions: The midbrain acts as a sort of relay station for auditory and visual information.

The medulla is located directly above the spinal cord and controls many vital autonomic functions such as heart rate, breathing and blood pressure.

The pons connects the medulla to the cerebellum and helps coordinate movement on each side of the body.

Also, the reticular formation is located in the brain stem. It is a diffuse network of neurons that for the core of the brain stem. Contains nuclei, some of which are called 'functions centres,' e.g., motor function. Some determine the level of alertness, and pain modulation (thus controls level of pain perception) and visceral functions (cardiovascular centre and respiratory centre monitor the level of CO2). --Student, University of Sydney

JessicaLynn
Post 2

@KaBoom - That is a pretty memorable way to look at it. Although sensation is important I always remember this part of the brain because it controls breathing and swallowing! Those are two functions of the body that are involuntary but so important.

KaBoom
Post 1

When I took anatomy in school I had a lot of trouble with the unit on the brain. However the diencephalon was one of the things I never had trouble remembering!

Since it's the relay station for the senses I used to always picture sensory input like a relay race. All the neurons carry the sensations to the diencephalon where they hand them off so the diencephalon can distribute them appropriately throughout the brain.

I know the brain stem has more functions than just acting as the sensory relay station but that's what stuck out to me the most.

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