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The flocculus is a small section of brain located at the base of the cerebellum. Connected to the cerebellum by a number of neural pathways, the flocculus assists with balance and eye-movement. Without this section of brain, it would not be possible to make smooth bodily movements.
The flocculus is comprised of two small, irregular-shaped lobes. Located on the lowest part of the cerebellum, each of the lobes is connected to the central structure in the cerebellum, called the vermis, by a band of neurons. These lobes are also connected to the spinal cord through projections that descend from its base.
Eye movement is one of the main functions of the flocculus. These two small lobes make it possible to track a moving object with the eyes and head while keeping it in the center of vision. As the head moves to follow an object, the eyes must counter this motion by moving in the opposite direction. The neural pathways in this section of brain coordinate these motions so an object remains centered. It can also compensate for any additional body movements.
The flocculus also has a great deal to do with balance and the ability to stand upright. Connected to the vestibular system, it receives sensory information from the vestibular sensory organs, which are located on the temporal bone in the inner ear. These organs collect information that is needed to determine the motion and orientation of the head. Once it is processed by the flocculus, the information can be used to remain perpendicular to the ground.
The flocculus uses the data it receives to make adjustments to speed, force and directional motion of many muscles at once. This allows animals to keep their balance while standing and walking. These adjustments are not a part of conscious thought.
The cerebellum, which houses the flocculus, is located in the back and at the base of the human brain, directly above the brain stem. The cerebellum takes up about 10% of the brain’s total volume and yet contains nearly 50% of all the neurons. The role of the cerebellum is to coordinate movement, balance and muscle tone. It is also involved in the processing of language and of sensory information.
Damage to sections of the cerebellum makes normal movement difficult. Patients who have experienced trauma to this section of brain may have trouble walking, talking, judging distance and balancing. Damage to the flocculus can cause jerky eye movements and difficulty maintaining balance.
Seeing someone who has had damage to their flocculus makes me very sad. My neighbor got hit in the head by someone who broke into his house, and he hasn't been the same since.
He can't seem to focus his eyes on anything. His speech is fragmented and comes in spurts. He can no longer walk on his own, because he has lost his sense of balance.
You know how cartoons depict someone who has just been hit on the head? Well, he acts like that. The difference is that the characters recover quickly. He will likely never regain his normal abilities.
I have never noticed that the eyes move in a different direction from the head! After I read that, I looked in the mirror to check it out. They really do go the opposite way!
I just think it's amazing how the human body is designed so that so many different parts coordinate with each other. The fact that we can maintain our balance without even thinking about it is astounding.
If we had to think about every motion of every body part in order for it to happen, we would slow way down. Thankfully, the flocculus does this for us!
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