What Are the Functions of the Midbrain?

Jennifer Long

There are many functions of the midbrain, including body temperature regulation, motor control, and sleep cycles. Additionally, the midbrain influences hearing, vision, and arousal. This vital region is responsible for controlling all of the responses related to sensory information and regulating the body's actions to those responses. For example, if the hand experiences a sharp pain, the midbrain tells the brain that the hand needs to pull back.

The midbrain is responsible for body temperature regulation.
The midbrain is responsible for body temperature regulation.

The midbrain region is part of the central nervous system. It is located near the center of the brain, under the cerebral cortex and on top of the hindbrain region. This region joins the spinal cord and the brain together and is commonly referred to as part of the brainstem primarily due to its location.

The midbrain helps to regulate sleep cycles.
The midbrain helps to regulate sleep cycles.

Functions of the midbrain are achieved through the cerebral cortex, cerebellum, and substantia nigra. Input is collected from the environment and sent to the cerebral cortex. The substantia nigra uses input sent from the cerebral cortex to regulate voluntary movements and moods. A path, called the rubrospinal tract, runs from the cerebellum to the bottom motor centers of the brain and sends input as a route for voluntary movement signals.

The midbrain has a heavy influence on arousal.
The midbrain has a heavy influence on arousal.

Due to the functions of the midbrain, it is classified as the most advanced of the regions of the brain. The midbrain itself, also known as the mesencephalon, is divided into sub-sections. Forming a dorsal covering of the midbrain, the tectum regulates auditory and visual stimuli and responses. A bottom section, called the tegmentum, handles motor control, awareness, and autonomic responses. Another section, also part of the basal ganglia, is the substantia nigra which controls and regulates dopamine production and the input and output of the basal ganglia.

The midbrain is located beneath the cerebellum.
The midbrain is located beneath the cerebellum.

There are four divisions of the tectum, known as the corpora quadrigemina. These divisions are called colliculi and are the main sections that control sensory information. Two inferior colliculi handle the auditory information and are located under the superior colliculi. The two superior colliculi handle the visual information and can be found under the thalamus. Together, these four divisions provide collective functions of the midbrain.

Extending from the cerebral aqueduct to the substantia nigra, the tegmentum contains a crucial part called the red nucleus. This specific part regulates the coordination of movements, both simple and complex. The oculomotor nerve that is present in this area is responsible for eye movements and constriction of the pupils.

The midbrain influences both hearing and vision.
The midbrain influences both hearing and vision.

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Discussion Comments


@Porcupie-- Interesting discussion. I've read in some religious books that our memories remain with us after death. So after we die, we don't forget who we are or our loved ones in this world. We continue to remember them and miss them.

If that's true, then our conscious mind and our brain are two separate things. Although our brain dies with us, our conscious mind -- thoughts and memories-- remain with our soul.

Since none of us have died and returned to tell the story, we can't ever be sure about this. But I agree that it makes an interesting discussion.


@fify-- Well, I'm sure it has something to do with it. I'm not a doctor or anything but I live with my elderly grandmother and she experiences some of these issues. I'm sure it's part of aging. As we get older, all of our body systems an organs experience a reduction in their function. They just don't work as well as they used to anymore. But this may have more to do with the organs themselves aging rather than the midbrain not working right.

I think if the midbrain was malfunctioning, the consequences would be severe. It wouldn't just be the difficulty hearing or remembering that we see in our grandparents. I'm also certain that issues with the midbrain could happen to persons of any age. It could be a result of an injury or illness. For example, a tumor in this part of the brain would cause serious issues with the areas of the human body that the midbrain is responsible for.


Is this why our responses to sensory information weaken as we get older? I mean, the elderly have difficult hearing and seeing well. They experience insomnia or take naps during the day. And of course, arousal and certain reflexes also reduce after a certain age. Is this all due to our midbrain not working as well as it used to?



I think it's fascinating in terms of science vs. religion. Some people feel that who we are is gone the moment we die, because the true self is held in the brain (memories and so forth), while others feel that the true self is the soul. I love hearing other people's opinions on this subject, if anyone wants to chime in. Do the functions of the brain define who we are?


There is still so little we know about the human brain, it must make for a fascinating area of research.

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